This is no time for mankini politics, warns Matt Forde
There’s a lot of rubbish written about Ed Miliband having an image problem. Of course he’s got one, but it’s not the fundamental problem. He won’t change his image and neither should he. I hope he doesn’t anyway, because, as an impressionist, he’s an absolute gift to me and if he becomes prime minister he’ll keep me in work for at least, as I hope, another five years. Having an image problem at least humanises him and gives him something in common with most Britons. How many of us really like our image? Personally, I hate photos of myself and don’t think that there’s a single one that doesn’t make me look either fat, weird, bald, constipated or a mixture of all these things. Oddly, in this very human way we’ve got more in common with Miliband than we do some of our vainer, more image-conscious politicians.
Of course, it’s tempting to think that an image change might work but I can’t see people at home going, ‘Ah, NOW I get Ed Miliband. His policies just seem to make sense since he started wearing that mankini’. Ed needs to chill out a bit and be more of himself, not more of the political actor that he thinks we want. Being nerdy in itself isn’t the problem that people think it is. Alistair Darling was often seen that way and in the end it was a virtue. It was his financial rescue package that helped save the financial services industry. No one moaned that the rescue package wasn’t charismatic enough.
It’s policy that matters. Most people agree with Ed about rich people paying their fair way. However, this cannot become Labour’s loudest message on business. When Ed launched his attack on tax evasion he should have had a host of major British business leaders all sounded out beforehand and ready to do media rounds as part of a coordinated campaign to prove that Labour has successful friends who think he should be prime minister. All Ed Balls could give us was a first name. It was like watching Derek Acorah blag his way around a haunted house. ‘I’m getting a name … Bill?’. I half expected Balls to ask Emily Maitlis if the letter ‘N’ meant anything to her. If only Ed Miliband had met Bill in a park, they’d have remembered so much more about him because he’d have probably ended up in a conference speech. ‘I met a guy called Bill, he’s from Derbyshire, he used to be the executive vice-president of EDS and do you know what he said to me? He said, “I want to chair your party’s business taskforce”.’
The cost-of-living crisis is genuine but it’s going to take more than freezing energy bills at an already high rate to reverse it. I’m not convinced it’s the vote-winner some Labour activists think it is either. Taking that out on the doorstep might not be that easy. ‘You know those energy bills you’ve got that are really high? We’ll guarantee them at that price until 2017. That’s right, sir, slam the door in my face to keep the cold out, very wise’. Of course, bills might fall but the general trend is upward and in an era of low inflation it’s not a massive help, beyond the ability to plan. Labour and Ed should be talking about Britain beyond the deficit, about our hopes and dreams. I want to feel inspired about the future of Britain and want to feel like the governance of the country is in safe hands. This government hasn’t made most people excited about the future, which so far has been an opportunity that Labour has completely missed. I want Ed to talk the language of ambition – regardless of what voice he says it in.
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