Whenever I see Ed Miliband trying to pretend he’s a human, I’m reminded of a particular scene in Mark Tavener’s criminally underrated sitcom Absolute Power in which the oily sultan of spin Charles Prentiss (not so much played by as written for Stephen Fry) is sizing up dowdy Tory shadow minister Joanne Standing (basically a pilot version of The Thick of It‘s Nicola Murray).
‘Who are you, Joanne?’ demands Prentiss. ‘Don’t answer that, I’m making a rhetorical point. You’re Neil Kinnock.’
‘Wrong party, wrong sex,’ she fires back.
‘If the British public were forced at gun-point to appoint a new Prime Minister and they could only choose between Jeffrey Archer and Neil Kinnock, who would they pick? A convicted felon and mythomaniac or a sincere and dedicated socialist?
‘They’d choose Archer every time. And why? Because Kinnock is Kinnock. There’s something about that poor bastard that just makes you want to run screaming from the room. And you’re the same. No offence.’
Ed’s the same too. Except instead of running from the room, I just find myself wanting to bully him. I’m not proud of this but I cannot tell a lie. Well obviously that was one but I wont tell another lie until at least the end of this sentence. When I see his face, I just want to stuff it down the nearest toilet. It looks like it belongs there.
This is a problem for any aspiring statesman. I mean imagine if he gets elected. Unlikely, I know, but indulge me. How are we supposed to promote our national interests on the world stage when all anyone around the negotiating table can think about is bog-washing our Prime Minister?
I jest of course. Ed probably hasn’t had to comb the Cillit Bang out of his hair since prep school. Though at the moment it does look as though he’s imminently to renew old acquaintances with a certain Mr Armitage Shanks as his party hurtles toward the electoral toilet.
And this isn’t just because he’s ‘weird.’ Though he does seem pretty weird.
It’s because in respect of the credentials on which he repeatedly invites us to judge him – ideas, policies, intellectual rigour – his CV is as blank as Ed Balls’s Fitness First loyalty card.
The other week we learnt that Labour’s policy review process (the place where all Ed’s lofty principles go to become policies) was being ditched in favour of ‘instrumentalised, cynical nuggets of policy to chime with our focus groups and our press strategies and our desire for a top line in terms of the 24-hour media cycle’.
‘Fair enough,’ you might say, ‘that’s politics in the age of mass media innit’ but this is Ed Miliband we’re talking about here. The guy for whom the words ‘deep analysis’ seem to possess almost erotic resonance.
And by the way these weren’t the words of some disgruntled back-bencher. These came directly from the mouth of Jon Cruddas – the man in charge of Labour’s so-called policy review. Not the ‘erotic resonance’ ones. The other ones.
I don’t doubt that Ed is a man of principle. I don’t think anyone does. But the thing about principles is they need to be conveyed in a solution of policy. And beyond getting up occasionally to bleat about media monopolies, energy cartels and how his family grocery bill is over seventy shillings a week, Ed doesn’t really have any of those.
A principled politician without any ideas about how to implement them is a bit like that urban myth about the daddy long legs. You know, the one about it having the most lethal venom known to man but not having fangs long enough to bite. I’m going to sidestep the temptation to draw a physical parallel between Ed and a daddy long legs (a graceless tumbleweed of flaccid limbs flailing ineffectually around the skirting-board of electoral plausibility) because, despite my best efforts, I seem to have stumbled into the trap of making a serious point.
And that point is that far from people being ‘desperate for [Ed] to lose the next election,’ (as he told the Huffington Post recently with what I’m assuming he hoped would be interpreted as stoic self-deprecation) the many millions who believe in and depend on the principles Ed claims to stand for – a more equitable arrangement of the economy, a living wage, career paths for the young, fewer bulwarks of entrenched privilege – genuinely mourn his failings. For these people, it’s actually a profound inconvenience that Ed doesn’t know how to smile like a human or go jogging without looking like a llama in an industrial-sized tumble dryer and has all the charisma of Phil Neville giving a 12 part lecture series on erectile dysfunction.
But the truth (and by ‘truth’ I mean a half-baked theory which just occurred to me) is Ed actually likes keeping things nice and superficial. Column kilometers waxing abusive about his wonky nose, his flapping mouth full of accordion-key teeth and his litany of toe-curling pratfalls are meat and drink to him.
Why? Because it’s the ultimate deflector shield.
For Ed to have a mob of critics braying about how he’s incapable of eating bacon sandwich in a prime ministerial fashion lets him totally off the hook. Any curve balls can be batted away with self-righteous comments like ‘ideas matter in politics more than bacon sandwiches.’ In other words, he can tar all the negative press he gets with the broad brush of frivolity and completely ignore the very real charge that, far from being emboldened and distilled, these crucial arguments – cost of living and all that noise – have actually become tainted by association with him.
These are important principles which define the sort of society we want to see and powerful weapons in the fight to establish it. However, the sad fact is that choosing Ed Miliband to champion them is like mounting a heat-seeking missile on a spavined pack-horse.
And all the while Ed continues to make his election campaign the righteous crusade of the bullied schoolboy against ‘people who are far better at photo ops’ than him, it’s the people who actually know how much their weekly grocery bill comes to who will continue to suffer.
Having said all that, look at his silly face.