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Ed should try to ignore the noise and paint his own picture

Posted on 26 September 2010 | 7:09am

It is not usual for me to kick off with words of praise for Nick Robinson and Tom Bradby, but both require a little for their commentary around the election of Ed Miliband as Labour leader yesterday.

As the breathless anchors were pressing for the definitive soundbite assessment of Ed’s narrow win, both the BBC and ITV political editors did well to hold a line that basically said ‘too early to tell.’

Put more positively from Ed’s perspective, I would say that he, more than anyone else, more than political colleagues, opponents or pundits, can now shape how he is seen by the public. That is quite an exhilerating position to be in, especially for the candidate who came from behind and is therefore less well known among the general public.

The scale of coverage and debate yesterday and today shows that this is an important moment. It shows too that plenty of people, for their own reasons, will be trying to portray Ed in a certain way. ‘Red Ed’ will be the favoured right-wing press shorthand. ‘In hock to the unions’ will be the Tories’. They will really want to make that one stick. Ed can foil them, and will be helped if they keep fielding Baroness Warsi as their voice on Labour.

Indeed none of the labels others are applying need worry him, provided he has his own clear sense of a medium and long term strategy, and he sees it through, whatever the noise going on around him. The first label Tony Blair’s opponents tried to make stick was ‘Bambi.’ Fat lot of good that did them.

Tuesday’s leader’s speech is important. So will be Ed’s first PMQs, the appointment of his first shadow cabinet, his first major overseas trip, his first big City event, his first union conference, his first internal crisis, and so on and on and on, a diary full of opportunities for HIM to paint the picture he wants to paint of himself, and not the one that others want painted.

In getting this far he has already shown some of the qualities required for leadership – boldness (in going for it in the first place), a touch of steel, and an ability to persuade.

In my view of leadership, rule one is the ability always to be clear about objective, strategy and tactics, and to know the difference. On that too, given he has secured his objective of winning the leadership election, he would appear to have some of what it takes.

But now a far bigger challenge faces him and he will have to show he has another quality required – adaptability to changed circumstances.

I wanted David to win, but I wish Ed well now that the Party has spoken. I wish David well too. Yesterday cannot have been easy, on any level, and the implications are life-changing for both of them. Whatever he decides to do in the future, nothing takes away from the fact that he is a very clever, talented and nice person. It just wasn’t his day, was it? As he was being told the result, his team, Arsenal, were going down at home to West Brom while Ed’s team, Leeds, were winning by a late goal against Sheffield United. That is another quality required from time to time – luck. I wish plenty of it to Ed.

He was right to stress the importance of a new generation taking over. One of the reasons I avoided Manchester yesterday, and avoided the airwaves, was that the last thing he needs is a cacophany of voices from the TB-GB era all telling him how to escape the TB-GB era and be his own man. Being his own man without all the noise might be easier.

And I wonder if he has sent a little note of thanks to Peter Mandelson. Who knows whether Peter’s book-promoting intervention for David didn’t help provide the final little swing Ed needed? In this one, perhaps he really was the third man!

  • Riten Gohil

    Couldn’t agree more Al, how can he be prejudged by some sections of the media before he’s even got off the podium. Assumption is a dangerous thing and it will bite the likes of the annoying Warsi in the bum. Glad you’ve sensibly sent the right message that Ed should be allowed to get on with his own vision.

  • Anonymous

    It’s just all wrong. i’ll get there, but feeling blue this morning.

  • Ed Miliband will do well to distance himself from Alastair Campbell.

  • Olli Issakainen

    My first rule of politics is: Know your enemy. I have been reading, among others, the Sunday Telegraph this morning. And I am glad to notice that the Tories do not get Ed Miliband. (Some in Labour made the same mistake.)
    Ed Miliband is not a Bennite left-winger! He is moderate and represents the middle of the Labour party.
    Britain seems to have become a country of clairvoyants overnight! The coalition is about to make cuts of £80bn and rise VAT to 20%, and yet many people already know that Labour will lose in 2015. If week is a long time in politics…
    And then some people say that it was the unions that won the day. Ed Miliband won because he got most votes: 175,519 to David´s 147,220. Ordinary workers worried about their jobs and pensions voted for him.
    Ed Miliband targets the “squeezed” middle class, and rightly so. This section is the key to winning the next election. Ed has emotional intelligence to reconnect with the 5 million voters Labour has lost since 1997.
    He won because he was more in tune with the Zeitgeist than his brother.
    He understood that the unpopular Iraq war, growing inequality and New Labour´s endorsement of the financial sector were problems.
    Ed Miliband can now unite the party and create a constructive alternative. He will also remoralise politics and bring idealism back.
    The coalition will wreck the economy and the services in their ideological zeal. By underestimating Labour´s new leader they are making yet another bad judgement.

  • Dave

    “… the last thing he needs is a cacophany of voices from the TB-GB era all telling him how to escape the TB-GB era and be his own man.”


  • Neil

    Robinson’s post-result commentary may be praise-worthy, but what on earth was he doing blabbering all over rounds 2 and 3 of the results? (With a prediction that turned out to be wrong – and which was pointless in any case since we were in the process of hearing the actual result.)

  • Peter Sadler

    Ed must be measured on his actions and not be diverted from his own course – he has to get through the next few days in Manchester and of media furore ; he has to establish an opposition cabinet; he has to work with them to develop objectives and strategies both to deliver the new Labour era and to bring down the Con-Dem pact before it does too much damage; and he has to decide on the presentation and communication cornerstones.
    During the next three months there will be no reduction on the ‘noise’ coming from the Tories and their Agitator General Warsi, but more importantly they will eventually be forced to match their actions to their words.
    So Ed, please concentrate on what they do rather than what they say and align your strategy to tangibles rather than hyperbole.

  • Jamie Reed MP

    Ed is a centrist and he will succeed. Success in part depends upon senior party figures and former Leaders giving whatever advice they would like purely in private. Interventions have – in some way- helped to shape this contest and it’s a fact that David Miliband neither sought nor appreciated them. Nor, I expect, will Ed have appreciated them.

    Yesterday Gordon Brown delivered a passionate address in his authentic voice. His refusal to ntervene in the contest has shown real quality; he understands what Labour must do, and how the new Leader needs to become his own man. Neil Kinnock’s interventions have been unwise, unwelcome and divisive.

    The first task for Ed, in my opinion, is to silence the voices of the past. Only then can Labour’s new generation plot its own course.

    As a David supporter, I’m behind Ed 100%. His success will be our success.

    Excellent post.

  • Richard Brittain

    Alastair is absolutely right. We cannot write him off before he has even begun. I do think there are some major problems, however – that people like Mandelson have already come out and said that Ed has distanced himself from the manifesto he wrote. There is quite a lot of ground for easy Tory attack on him. I also think he will basically only appeal to those who are already die-hard Labour voters. I cannot see him reaching out to the electoral middle grounds, though I might well be proved wrong.

  • Pe

    The Trade Unions voted Ed in, and they’ll want their pound of flesh!

  • Stuart

    “Bambi”? Yeah, like get real man. And if Ed is Wookiee then that makes me an Einstein. Let’s not forget; “a Wookiee has a [political] lifespan of several centuries”! Many rivers to cross – fear not. Ed; you should definitely be your own man, but never lose sight of the fact if you you’re not making the news then some “red top” will make it for you.

  • Will Martyn

    Question – do people think David Miliband will ever be the leader of the Labour party? Yesterday will leave a scar and my worry is that when a change is inevitably required at some point; the party may feel a switch to David would only be ‘more of the same’. I hope I
    am wrong. I rate Ed Miliband but cannot help feeling the party took a step backwards yesterday. Again, I truly hope I am wrong.

  • Dr Olu Ojedokun

    The premature hysteria about Ed Milliband has come about because the right wing press and the Tories are worried about Ed. To those making premature comments i suggest they wait and revisit their comments in 12 months.

    I was impressed by Ed, but only voted David because i was worried we might lose him as a ‘big beast’, the way he manages his brother may yet prove how formidable Labour become in opposition to the coalition.

  • Robert Jackson

    It’s right for the party to have a leader younger than the Government – just as TB and Cameron/Clegg were once the future – Ed’s the future now.

  • Robert Crosby

    I think the anti-Kinnock comment is unfair, especially when weighed against attempted interventions by the likes of Peter Mandelson and several others against Ed. Ed has said himself that the leadership contest iis history now and that whatever was said in the “cut and thrust” of that should be consigned to the past. He is right and we should take what he says on board from this point on.

  • Teresa

    I felt so choked watching Ed and David hug yesterday, there’s something so special about the Milliband brothers I think.

  • Chris lancashire

    Thanks for confirming what I thought with this commentary. MilliD was the leader Labour needed. MilliE is in no way up to the task that faces him.

  • Bar Bar of Oz

    Onya, Alistair.

  • Stevebrundish

    Although I feel we may now heading for a tough few years with Ed at the helm I feel there could be a scenario where by Labour could snatch victory from Cameron Clegg. We need a story the media will follow rather than finish off. If The Millbands can portray themselves as the UKs version of the Kennedy’s (two brothers with a vision and the ability to deliver). With David given a widened shadow chancellor’s brief with the two of them fashoning a post Brown/Blair future for the Labour party. Speeches looking to how we want the UK to be in post deficit Britain, asking the question what kind of country do we want Britain to be? one that relies on charities while any surplus is piad to the well off in tax cuts or a Britain with qaulity efficient public services and an economy providing for alll not just the bankers. This tied in with a clear policy on how to attack the Condems may just bring the people (and some of the media) on side and perhaps there may be a glimmer of hope for the next election.

  • Clare

    “As he was being told the result, his team, Arsenal, were going down at home to West Brom while Ed’s team, Leeds, were winning by a late goal against Sheffield United. ”

    Love your ability to bring football into absolute everything!

  • Queue

    I’m no lazy BBC hater but Nick Robinson talked right over the effing results! I had to try to piece together what happened in rounds two and three later on. Why couldn’t he just stay quiet for *literally* two minutes and let the incredible drama play out? Argh.

  • Quinney

    I think Ed should point out that over 6 million people choose to be in a trade union, there is no closed shop anymore. They also choose to pay a political levy, that’s why they can vote for the Labour leadership. I thought Cameron wanted a “Big Society”, where ordinary people can vote democratically for change?
    Finally it wasn’t the unions that brought the country to the verge of a financial meltdown, it was the bankers. Where is the demonisation of those faceless board members who were no better than than the gambling addict in the bookies? Who intervened to stop the financial system going under? We did.
    Trade unions aren’t socially useless, bankers who played Russian Roulette with this nations savings are.

  • Teresa

    When I was watching Ed and David yesterday I was thinking the same thing, that they could be our Kennedy’s but without the horrible ending. Because I do think there is something intriguing about brothers being in politics together.

  • Fozzie

    Have to agree Robinson’s inane chatter spoiled a moment of high drama with worthless prattle sadly though it seems to be the norm nowadays for the bbc that being said i Marr was good this morning

  • J Kirkham

    Well said. And you’re right that the best thing you can do as part of the “old guard” is stay out of the way.

  • Craig W Thomas

    Mr AC, it’s very noble, dignified and indeed, statesmanlike of you to have spoken as you have above. Let then some of the lesser lights haul up their slacks, insert the razor blade into the toe of the Dr Martens and otherwise get stuck in.

    I did some telephone grunt work for David’s campaign for one obvious reason. You have to have been living on the moon not to have noticed that only one of the five candidates had ‘FUTURE PRIME MINISTER’ written in invisible ink all over their clothes and skin. Obviously the man was (and still is) David Miliband.

    F*** me, though, if in taking a closer look at his written word and radion and TV performances for research purposes I didn’t discover that David had an awful lot more going for him than I’d realised.

    Next let’s state the obvious: Floating voters win and lose elections. Takes 4 qualities to win their support in bulk. One, you’ve got to look right. Two, you’ve got to sound right. Three, you have to believe fully in your right to be standing there at the podium – ie, believe totally that leadership is your natural birthright, fate, destiny etc. Note that Cameron has two and three quarters of the above and that’s why he’s the Prime Minister.

    Four, you have to have brains. Crucially, high intelligence amplifies the other three. Smart people look and sound more confident. Confidence, self-belief (Nietsche fans will know this) can go an awful long way to sticking plastering over other deficiencies. Brains means good decision making. The reason Cameron presides over a Coalition is because he lacks ‘Four’.

    The more I heard and saw DM, the more blindingly obvious it became that he had 3 and a half of the four and more besides (I’ll come to the missing half). The ‘more’ was very exciting. It was clear (conference call, MIrror questionaire) that he had a sharp, strong sense of humour. Use that, man, as leader and you will have the electorate swooning, I thought. It was clear too that David’s intelligence gave him 2 other advantages: one, his diction (Question Time a prime example) was clearer than anyone I’d ever heard before in politics, even when expressing complex ideas; two, he showed, by his words and body language (especially in the eye) that he was clearly someone who had already taken the measure of the job of Leader of the Opposition and, I reckoned, national leader with the most finely calibrated implement around and had very carefully noted the figures. Here was a man who would be calm and solid under pressure, who, the more the chips were down, the higher he would rise to meet the problem or crisis of the time.

    David had all this – yet it wasn’t enough.

    Which only begs the question, how on earth did he, and the Labour party, and the nation, lose?

    The answer is multi-causal, naturally. If the Mandy book was a ‘problem,’ the timing of the Blair release was an ‘evil.’ The sheer toxicity of this and the reaction in the press cannot be underestimated. For factor two, ignore the unions. When, in a time of national need, have their leaders ever thought of the national interest? For me, voting for DM wasn’t an act of narrow, party interest, it was desperately important for Great Britain. Instead blame the members. While it’s factually accurate that David beat Ed, the vote was close. In truth it should have been an absolute slaughter. From my phone calls it became clear that the south of England – Dartford honourably excepted – was the problem. After talking to a sociologist at Sussex University (a member I had a long conversation with) I’m very happy to give Brighton a very honourable mention as home of the dumbest, stupidest, most self-indulgent Labour people in Britain. Clearly a lot of members get ‘it,’ it being the fact that modern electoral politics is about picking a leader who IS a person with leadership qualities (not HOPING one of the candidates can be a fine leader). It is understanding that simply picking the candidate with the policies you most like is a fatuous luxury. [It should be noted, however, that my local party, Matlock, needs a hefty kick up its collective behind, showing that you still get middle class fantasists north of the Trent.]

    Thirdly, David was incredibly unlucky to be the one candidate with the stink of New Labour clinging to his suit. All four others stood to the Left of him with, in the end, fatal second preference consequences. The fact that Ed wasn’t tainted by his closeness to Gordon (members sentimentally pro-Gordon for reasons explained only by their not having read Tom Bower’s book alongside about a dozen others).

    Fourthly, systemic failure. That Ed wins by virtue of trade union support will keep Tories laughing from here until 2015 and beyond, unless in that year the opinion polls have the Tories on 32% or less. The electoral college was a disaster. Our MPs picked David. The members (for all their stupidity in tens of thousands of cases) picked David. But he lost. Three cheers for party democracy,

    Fifthly, David made one fatal mistake. That day the press waited until about 4 or 5 o’clock to hear from the Foreign Secretary’s position on Gordon Brown, he should have come out at midday sharp and stood before the cameras to make a short, statesmanlike speech to say that this was a time for loyalty. Here was a blindingly obvious chance to lay down an emphatic marker in about 5 sentences over 90 seconds that ‘I am the next leader of the Labour Party.’

    Why didn’t he? Too nice? Too embarrassed about such a clonkingly obvious move? There’s your missing half: not cut-throat enough to be leader?

    I don’t believe this to be true: David should still have won by a mile and a bit of modesty from him, if that’s what it was, should not be condemned. Why should politicians who want to lead always be so grasping, so Machievellian, so obviously behave like a ‘player’ all the time? Apologies if the problem was actually David hesitating over whether to stand.

    And even the support of Allan Johnson, Jon Cruddas, Denis Skinner and John Prescott wasn’t enough for David Miliband and so we have Ed.

    A woman member I spoke to who sang Ed’s praises from the rooftops had me watching him again on YouTube, hoping that if David did lose we’d be alright; but all I heard and saw was a 40 year old already sounding like a pompous academic. His ‘fantastic conference speech last year’ failed to impress. You could take a chisel, plane and sandpaper to him, for all that he is supposed to exude ‘passion.’

    With Ed as leader we (Labour) will win between 50-100 seats fewer than we would have done under David. You can make all the claims you like for Ed, but if my wife can watch him and say ‘He talks like he can’t get the words out of his mouth,’ then swathes of floating voters – unless the country is on its knees – will listen to him, watch him, have already taken the effect of years of him being butchered in the right wing press as a gormless, geeky, Red-Ed in hock to destructive, neo-Communist power, and reject him.

    At which point I hope David will leap from the shadow Cabinet and save us all, Ed having done the decent thing and resigned.

    He should never have stood in the first place. Make that six reasons.

  • Stevebrundish

    ED and David have between them represent all parts of the party. Kinnock and Hattersley did the same thing in the 80’s. I just hope that Ed is willing to share the leading of the party because after the knocks Labour has taken over the last year of so coming together really must be more than just words.