David Herdson says don’t “misunderestimate” Ed Miliband

David Herdson says don’t “misunderestimate” Ed Miliband

Ed with No 10 collage

Has he been taking advice from George W Bush?

The forty-third president of the United States said some silly things in his time, to the extent that ‘Bushism’ has become defined not as his political philosophy but as the kind of verbal misspeak that occurs when the brain and mouth take different directions during the same sentence, or alternatively, when a high-powered politician goes in for ill-advised flippancy.  On which note, his speech to the 2001 Gridiron Club dinner contained the following piece of advice, allegedly given to him by Democrat Robert Strauss:

“You can fool some of the people all of the time, and those are the ones you need to concentrate on.”

Now it has to be said that Bush said it in a speech where presidents are supposed to tell jokes and that whatever his other failings, taking himself too seriously wasn’t among them.  It also helps when coming out with a piece of arch cynicism to attribute it to your opponents rather than, say, Karl Rove.  Even so, there’s more than a grain of truth in it providing that there isn’t too big an adverse effect among those you don’t fool.

And what’s true in America is also true in the UK.  Perhaps the biggest turnaround in fortunes in the last year is that Ed Miliband is now rated far better among those who say they’d vote Labour were there an election now.  The turning point was probably the Syria debate, when Miliband refused to back the government’s motion and – perhaps accidently – ended up defeating it.  (My own belief is that Miliband probably expected the government to win, for air strikes to take place and for Labour to therefore be able to play it either way depending on how events turned out).  No matter.  Opposition to air strikes was popular and Miliband learned to ride the wave.

Before the Syria vote, Labour had of course opposed the government on spending cuts and tax rises but that always felt like opposition-by-numbers.  What’s changed is that Labour has now gone on the offensive in proposing things like the energy price freeze and the living wage subsidy.  These are measures that are superficially popular.  Who wouldn’t like lower energy bills or more pay?  The question as to who pays for it hasn’t been answered but that doesn’t matter because it’s barely been asked.

The reason why the government’s had trouble asking it is twofold.  The first is that Miliband, Balls and the rest of the Labour front bench are more than happy for the onus to be placed on energy firms or big business: things sufficiently remote and unpopular for people to be happy for them to take the hit.  Whatever the actual economic effects of the policy would be, the short term political dividing line places the Tories and Lib Dems next to the fat cats and Labour by the little guy.

The second – attributed to the aforementioned Karl Rove though I can’t place the direct quote – is that when you’re arguing about details, you’re losing.  Not that it matters who said it: the point is right.  Miliband’s proposals have caught the imagination because they spring from a genuine feeling of grievance about energy prices and low pay.  Even if people don’t believe they would work, they at least think that Labour recognises the problem.  Debating the possible effects of the policy merely reinforces the point.

The lesson from all this?  Don’t misunderestimate Ed Miliband.

David Herdson.

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