I’ve often heard people remark how surprised they are at just how handsome, sincere and at ease Ed Miliband is when they meet him in person. That’s because the controlled and biased media have worked hard to purposefully present a purely fictional image of an opposition leader that is weird, arkward, geeky, weak, unattractive and unelectable. But nothing could be further from the truth.
The large discrepancy between Tory media portrayals and reality are a key reason why Cameron didn’t want the televised head-to-head debates with Miliband to go ahead. During his interview with the self-declared “one nation”conservative Jeremy Paxman, Miliband very cleverly highlighted the disparity in fictional creations of the media by his casual dismissal of them, stating that he didn’t care what the media says about him: he cares what the public think.
This not only demonstrates that Miliband values sincerity and solid, needs-led public policy content over superficial image management as a leader, (Cameron by contrast certainly favours PR style-management over content,) it draws a clear dividing line between what is real and what is not, what really matters and what does not, for the public to plainly see.
The public finally got to see the real Ed Miliband – confident, strong, keen to listen rather than just keen to answer, eloquent, sincere, spontaneous (indicating his fundamental honesty) and remarkably, he remembered people’s names.
Even dealing with the deeply personal and undoubtedly difficult questions about his relationship with his brother from the audience, Miliband was positive, smiling – his honesty, warmth and being at ease with his own emotions shone through.
He said: “I thought someone needed to lead the Labour Party who would move us on from New Labour.”
Many people will agree with that. David Miliband is a Blairite, had he been elected party leader, the Labour Party would have stood still, rather than progressing as it has with Ed Miliband at the helm.
Paxman’s attempts at making Miliband look weak failed spectacularly. Miliband gave some excellent responses regarding questions about Labour’s borrowing record during the global banking crisis, (I particularly like his reference to the fact that it was a global recession, and that he said there is need for reform of the banking and finance sector,) and he disclosed Labour’s intention of redistribution policies with reference to the question about Labour’s mansion tax proposal.
Paxman then attempted to intimidate and bruise, using very personal questions to try and undermine Miliband and make him appear “weak”, inadvertantly allowing him to show his genuine strength instead. I was delighted to hear Miliband point out that he had refused to back proposed bombing raids on Syria despite immense pressure from Barack Obama – the “leader of the free world” – and Cameron. Miliband led the revolt against attacking Syria, which included a handful of Tories, much to Cameron’s fury at the time. (See: David Cameron accused Ed Miliband of ‘siding with Russia’ over Syria).
Miliband confirmed his potential to be a strong PM with a definitive, slightly corny but nonetheless pleasing, applause-inducing best line of the night: “Am I tough enough? Hell yes, I’m tough enough”.
Five years of Tory media reverse psychology on the public have been reversed masterfully by Ed Miliband in just a few minutes.
Miliband was very assertive and responsive, allowing nothing to faze him when Paxman turned the heat up:“You don’t get to decide the outcome of the general election: the public do. You’re important, Jeremy, but you’re not that important,” he retorted when Paxman suggested that a hung parliament was pre-destined.
Miliband intelligently turned what others would see as daunting media portrayals of his “weakness” into an opportunity to his advantage, re-framing himself as a strong leader who had been continually underestimated – someone whose warmth, decency and calm, rational responsiveness is mistaken for weakness. This is a man who was told he couldn’t beat his brother during the leadership vote (he did) and who was told he couldn’t become prime minister (he can and will).
Miliband presented himself as the decent conviction politician that he is, as someone who has clearly defined principles and integrity. He was passionate, warm, sincere, assertive, positive and at times, very witty and good humoured.
David Cameron, who had an easier ride from Paxman, emerged rattled, red-faced and bruised by Mr Paxman’s questions – particularly on the rise of food banks and zero-hour contracts. He displayed a fundamental hypocrisy when, after dismissing criticism of the impact of zero-hour contracts on others, he was forced to admit that he couldn’t survive on them himself. Cameron evaded answering and floundered when he was pressed. Miliband did not, providing clear, incisive answers throughout.
Miliband came across an honest, contained, very human, responsive, fluent, warm and inspiring leader, who refused, largely, to be placed on the defensive. He conveyed the key values behind his politics very well: a passionate desire to reduce inequality, which resonates with many voters and it sincerely reflects Miliband’s personal principles, as well as the rationale for his distinctive brand of democratic socialism.
Cameron, in contrast, came across as out of control, disingenuous, incoherent, lacking in principles and sound judgement, as well as integrity, especially when Paxman said that many voters found it “problematic” that Cameron had chosen to surround himself with people like Clarkson, ex-HSBC boss Lord Green and former News of the World editor Andy Coulson. Paxman asked: “What do you have in common with all these rich people?”
But although Cameron was quick on the uptake, he couldn’t bluster a defence, replying with: “The aspersion you are trying to cast is completely ridiculous.”
I think not. A corrupt scoundrel that has surrounded himself with other corrupt scoundrels is an accurate measure of it. The elitist “old boy network” world of Cameron, here, contrasts starkly with Miliband’s world-view, with strong emphasis on the core principle of equality.
Cameron’s sense of class-based entitlement has always been weakness which he has tried and failed to parade as a strength.
Mr Cameron was forced to confess that he had not asked Lord Green about tax avoidance in HSBC’s Swiss branch at the time of his appointment as a trade minister but said that: “all the normal processes and procedures were followed” and said that allegations the bank helped clients dodge tax had emerged only “subsequently.”
A good exposure there from Paxman. And in fairness, he did grill Cameron on broken promises concerning the NHS, VAT, debt, food banks, zero-hour contracts and immigration, which tore open the coalition’s presented record showing them as being somewhat conservative with the truth.
Paxman claimed that Miliband had made erroneous estimates of unemployment and the level of wages, and I was satisfied when Miliband corrected him, stating what most of us know is true: wage levels have dropped since 2010. There was little opportunity for Miliband to discuss unemployment, however, once again, most of us know that insecure types of self-employment, benefit sanctions and workfare, amongst other things, have been used to massage the coalition’s employment figures. This was the recent finding of the cross-party Work and Pensions Committee inquiry into benefit sanctions, recently.
I think Paxman knew he had been out-manoeuvred by the end of the session. Not by cunning and strategy, but by fundamental honesty and unflinching courage: Miliband didn’t flounder or falter once. It’s revealing that the session closed with Paxman asking Miliband: “Are you okay?”
This was probably a face-saving tactic on Paxman’s part, as Miliband had trounced his attempts at showing him as “weak”, but it was also a revealing, apologetic attempt at compensation for the fact that he went too far with the personal elements in his questions in a deliberate attempt to undermine him. Miliband was quick to retort, perceptively: “I’m fine thanks, are you?”
Miliband’s pronounced strategy for overcoming a poor, most evilly contrived media-invented image is “be yourself.” It works very well, as everyone else is taken …
And Cameron, being a PR man, can only offer us superficial soundbites that don’t connect up, he has no real self to fall back on: he’s all ego and no soul.
Regardless of polls, I have faith that the British public will recognise a winning, decent, sincere Prime Minister with depth and principles that will serve in the best interests of the country rather than the best interests of his privileged peer group, like the ever-corruptible Cameron has.
Miliband has promised to fight a campaign founded on hope and optimism: he is determined to show that Britain can do better. He is so right.
Well done Ed Miliband!
Update: It’s been reported that Ed Miliband was punched and pushed by protesters wearing Alex Salmond masks, prior to the televised debate, by the Telegraph, Mirror and Express. The earlier incident, described as extremely aggressive and intimidating, did not hamper Mr Miliband’s performance in the first TV set piece of the election campaign. There is some speculation that the masked men that carried out the attack were Tory supporters, rather than Scottish Nationalists.
It does, however, possibly change the context in which Jeremy Paxman asked Ed Milband if was okay at the close of the session, as he may have known about the undoubtedly harrowing experience that Mr Milband had encountered just hours before. That would of course change Mr Paxman’s motive entirely.
Either way, the opposition leader turned up for the debates, apparently undaunted, and his performance was excellent. This is further indication of what an admirable, strong and courageous man of character Ed Milband is.