Ed Miliband is doing something wrong. Largely anonymous as opposition leader, serious doubts are raised about his ability to lead the country. Not that Prime-ministership is on the horizon. He’s too political, too burdened by his Marxist upbringing and too bound up with the unions, writes David Vaiani.
There are, of course, countless reasons. Indeed, the difficulty is to know where to start. However, it is Miliband’s past that holds the key to his future. Quite apart from convincing his own party to support him, a prospective candidate for Number 10 must be able to appeal to a broad range of voters. As public support for political parties continues to ebb away, he must also liberate himself from the narrow confines of his own party.
A brief look at the last 30 years of British politics serves to underline this argument. John Major came across as classless and was, therefore, attractive to a broad electorate. He also succeeded in distancing himself from the electorally unappealing eurosceptic wing of his party. Neil Kinnock did not have this ability.
Nor, for that matter, did John Redwood, one of Major’s challengers for the leadership of the Conservative Party. Tony Blair had this ability in spades. He looked and sounded like a Tory and was never able to resist the temptation to attack his own party’s traditions. Clause IV, for instance, springs to mind at once.
Sadly for the Tories, Hague, IDS and Howard did not have this ability. Fortunately for Blair, two of his main challengers, Gordon Brown and John Prescott, did not have this ability either. Cameron, like Blair, almost appears to be above party politics. He casts himself very effectively in the role of ‘Father of the Nation’ and he has made a habit of picking fights with his own party. Voters like this because it suggests that Cameron is able to look beyond his own narrow, factional interests. It could be argued that the abrasive and divisive Margaret Thatcher was the exception to this rule. But then she was in power at a time when the country was considerably more polarised than it is today.
In the case of Ed Miliband, meanwhile, it is quite clear that he does not have the ability to reach out beyond his own party. Some would argue that this is due to the Labour leader being in the pocket of the unions. There is some truth to this, but Miliband’s biggest fault is that he is simply not capable of understanding why anyone would vote for the Tories. Blair’s genius revolved around an instinctive understanding of why people might wish to vote Tory, which allowed him to subtly shift his position and to alter his message in accordance with his audience.
Miliband, as a result of his background, upbringing and education, cannot do this. Born in liberal north London, his father was a prominent Marxist intellectual. This was an overtly political home and the young Miliband frequently found himself in the company of the great and the good of the Labour movement. As a teenager at the aggressively progressive Haverstock Comprehensive School he spent his holidays working as intern for Tony Benn. After graduating from Oxford and the LSE Miliband’s first job was to work for the Labour MP, Harriet Harman. From then, he secured the safe Labour seat of Doncaster and eventually became a close aide to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
In short, Ed Miliband has spent his entire life with people who share his left-wing political outlook. He has never, either professionally or socially, been exposed to any other perspective on life. Now, the same could of course be said of David Cameron, but the trouble for Miliband is that, although class deference has been eroded over the years, there are still enough people willing to defer to the ‘born-to-rule’ candidate. Especially when it comes to representing the country to foreigners, the English like to see a chap in charge who looks the part. So, whilst having a blinkered left-wing, Guardian-reading, polenta-chomping view of the world is not a problem per se, unfortunately for Red Ed, it is not the world which the rest of the country inhabits.