Ed Miliband’s main problem at the moment is that he doesn’t come across as Prime Ministerial.
I don’t mean this in the superficial sense, by how he looks or how he speaks. People can make fun of him all they want, and it’s pretty puerile, but the simple fact is that amongst the factors that will govern whether Ed Miliband becomes Prime Minister, appearance is fairly low down the list. If this becomes a factor, that will only become apparent in the Leaders’ Debates. Even then, the issue will not really be about how Ed Miliband speaks, but about what he actually says, and what he does before 2015.
Take Gordon Brown for example. It’s easy to forget that he was actually riding high in the polls for the first four or five months of his premiership. People didn’t mind the sagging face and creepy smile when they thought he was actually competent. The tide turned for Brown when he failed to call the snap election in October 2007. It was stonkingly obvious to anyone that he had changed his mind because of the opinion polls, yet Brown denied this was the case in an interview with Andrew Marr. This started the rot for Brown: then the financial crisis finished him off.
Much of the debate in the Labour leadership contest last summer focussed on the fact that the party was not just picking a leader, but a potential Prime Minister. Ed Miliband needs to remember that, and act accordingly. So far, he has not acted with the necessary gravitas required.
In the first PMQs of the year, Ed Miliband came out with his trump card: fungi.
We know that the Business Secretary is not a man to mess with; he told his surgery before Christmas that he had a nuclear weapon in his pocket and he was not afraid to use it, so we should listen to him. He said: “If you keep people in the dark, you grow poisonous fungus.” On this occasion, he was not talking about the Chancellor of the Exchequer – he was talking about the bankers.
I would venture to submit that if you want to convey gravitas, and look Prime Ministerial, what you do not do is compare senior members of the government to poisonous mushrooms. Let’s face it, it’s not very big or clever.
It’s not as if that’s the only Tory Ed Miliband childishly insulted in that PMQs:
He even put the Vulcan in charge of his policy on the banks – planet Redwood and planet Cameron.
Does Ed Miliband want people to take him seriously?
The real problem with Ed Miliband resorting to personal insults is: where does that leave me?
Or rather: us, the political bloggers.
Surely it’s our job to fling personal insults and lower the standard of debate? You’d certainly think so if you listened to certain journalists. If Ed Miliband starts by comparing George Osborne to a poisonous mushroom, where can bloggers go to lower the tone? We’d have to spread rumours that he was sexually involved with horses, or something.
Anyway, all this does raise a fairly serious point. It’s one that Andrew Rawnsley made yesterday, when analysing Miliband’s reaction to the resignation of Andy Coulson:
Among those saying that this raises “real questions” about David Cameron’s judgment is Ed Miliband. He may be right, but it is also a misjudgment by the Labour leader to enter this fray. It is a sign of a weakness on his part to want to score quick tactical hits on the Tories. That sort of character attack is better left to the media and his juniors. He would be a more prime ministerial-looking figure if he held himself aloof.
Also, when one takes into account the appointments of Alan Johnson as Shadow Chancellor (and making Phil Woolas a shadow front-bench spokesman) one wonders whether people who live in wooden huts should be firing incendiary bombs.
Given Ed Miliband’s leadership campaign, it’s not surprising to see him resorting to this sort of opportunism. Especially since at the moment, because of his policy review, Labour doesn’t really have any policies that he can talk about. Yet he should still be aiming to get the tone right, and come across as a potential Prime Minister. He’s not doing that at the moment.