Ed Miliband doesn’t need more speeches, he needs interventions


1:14 pm - June 13th 2011

by Sunny Hundal    


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Ed Miliband’s response to the media-hyped “crisis” of the last week is somewhat worrying: he’s making speeches on policy. He is signalling a change in Labour’s approach to high executive pay and to people who abuse the benefits system today.

He will also makes pledges on delivering housing.

I don’t have anything against policy speeches per se, but they are not what Ed Miliband needs. What he needs are ‘interventions’. And the two are very different.

Interventions are somewhat different in that they don’t contain any policy detail that people can get their teeth into. But they make people sit up and take notice.

He could do a Tony Blair: making a big ideologically symbolic move such as ditching Clause 4. The party wasn’t going to implement Clause 4 anyway, but the move was played as a way to signal its new business-friendly attitude.

Cameron, instead, hugged huskies and hoodies. He rode around in bicycles and embraced homosexuals – he needed to signal that he was a modernising Conservative. Of course, he didn’t manage to detoxify the brand enough to win the election outright, but he grabbed attention.

It hasn’t always been this way: neither John Major nor Margaret Thatcher were particularly notable or stunt-inclined before election.

But Ed Miliband faces two problems: first, the Coalition is sucking up media interest much more than expected. Even the internal fighting is carefully orchestrated to make it look like Libdems are the better party of opposition.

This compounds the second problem, that Ed Miliband can’t communicate his ideas through the media even to voters interested in Labour. Many still don’t know what he stands for despite the multitude of solid speeches.

Of course, people claim to hate spin and stunts. But they still pay attention to them. Even people who spend half their day talking about politics online rarely read speeches or policy documents – most times the headline of an article and the first few paragraphs is all they remember.

You can’t always blame people – they have busy lives and short attention spans.

Ed Milband says hates stunts – he’s just not that kind. I agree. But the pendulum has swung too far the other way – he needs to avoid looking too invisible. And a flurry of speeches alone won’t do the job – he needs symbolism.

I’m almost afraid to say it… but he needs to do the equivalent of hugging a hoodie.

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Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


1. The Blood of the Beast

Oh, I don’t know. I think claiming to get ‘tough’ on the jobless and scroungers to appease the Daily Mail readers currently strapped to a hand-cart and wearing hockey-masks is stunt enough. Of course, a cursory glance at Twitter sentiment around Ed’s announcement shows Labour supporters raging and deserting in droves; but hey! Who needs them?

2. Mr S. Pill

Problem is it can easily backfire. Hague and his pint-drinking exploits/baseball-cap wearing shenanigans, for example. Attention isn’t always good (and without the recession Cameron would’ve lost – his “hug a hoodie” misquote wasn’t good for him or his party at all IMO).

Who needs the deserting Labour supporters? Er…

… I’d volunteer the Green Party – where we actually believe in providing non-judgemental support to those hardest hit by this machete-like advances on social solidarity in the UK. And frankly, those people leaving on principle are exactly the sort of people I’d be keen to work with to challenge this!

Unfortunately for Ed, his reputation as left-Labour means that any notable intervention would have to be rightward bound, rather than something the left flank of the population would sit up and look at…

You can’t always blame people – they have busy lives and short attention spans.

Put that the other way round for a fairer point…also living in a consumer society (short term drive for instant gratification) also shapes how people consume information or the value they put on news in general…

Anyway, Chomsky 101 aside, Sunny: what would you suggest he do? What dramatic intervention could he perform which would catch the eye and shake the media narrative?

@4 If it’s just attention he’s after he could have an affair with his brother’s wife. Seems to be keeping Giggsy in the headlines at the least…

@ Sunny

“And a flurry of speeches alone won’t do the job – he needs symbolism. I’m almost afraid to say it… but he needs to do the equivalent of hugging a hoodie.”

No Sunny, he really doesn’t.

It is now a year since the election, and many months since Ed Miliband became leader. We are still no nearer to knowing what he really stands for, whether he can (or even wants to?) de-toxify the Labour brand.

Isn’t it high time that Ed answered the “where’s the beef?” question?

What, if anything, actually makes his platform THAT different from the Coalition, or indeed from New Labour? People don’t want stunts, nor are they particularly driven by “the vision thing”…. as Bush Snr. found to his cost, “it’s the economy stupid”… so unless Ed can convince enough of the electorate that he’s a better bet than the Coalition or New Labour, he has about as much chance of becoming PM as IDS, Haigh, or Howard did.

Overall Sunny, I mostly agree with you. One, throwaway point though

It hasn’t always been this way: neither John Major nor Margaret Thatcher were particularly notable or stunt-inclined before election.

You’re so young! Except you’re born the same year as Jennie, ergo not that young.

I distinctly remember Thatcher riding a tank. I distinctly remember Major setting up a soap box in every marginal seat in the country (OK, not every one, but close).

Every leader does stunts. Some of them are well hidden, mostly they try to suit the personality of the leader (at least, the ones that work do, hello Hague’s baseball cap at Carnival). But they all do stuff to catch attention and get across who they are in a way that isn’t just a soundbite.

Hell, even Slugger Prescott’s punch can be said to be a stunt of sorts, worked well for him as well.

Heh at #7 I did think of those two when I read that bit in Sunny’s piece. 😀

I know – he could signal his respect for a long-standing institution, which a lot of traditional voters think is a vital part of society. That should send a strong message to Middle England voters. But you wouldn’t want it to be something which anyone actually objects to, so he doesn’t alienate anyone at the same time.

Get married, perhaps? Oh, hang on …

10. Luis Enrique

citizens arrest a banker

fair enough Mat! But those stunts were partly opportunism. Besides, John Major’s stunts failed badly.

We are still no nearer to knowing what he really stands for, whether he can (or even wants to?) de-toxify the Labour brand.

That’s because you haven’t read any of the speeches and are waiting for the stunts, while condemning them. A bit like many other politicos.

If “failed badly” means winning an election everyone was predicting he would and getting more votes than any subsequent Prime Minister has managed, then maybe, but that’s not what I’d call it (note, he didn’t bother in ’97, everyone knew he’d lost then, but ’92? He clearly won that election from a very weak starting position).

But opportunism has to be a part of leadership–events, dear boy. If you don’t use the opportunities that are presented to you, you’ll fail (and probably make a crap PM as well).

neither John Major nor Margaret Thatcher were particularly notable or stunt-inclined before election

What Mat says, kiddo. Neither of us are old enough to remember Thatcher imposing herself on the public consciousness in the mid 1970s. A cursory read through og the history of the time strongly suggests rather a lot of stunts, ranging from cuddling calfs to highly public tours of factory shop floors.

Besides, John Major’s stunts failed badly.

Um. There’s that history thing again.

Jesus. Turns out that what Labour really needs to do are more of those things that turn me away from party politics and push me further towards the sort of eye-rolling ‘they’re all the same and it’s all bollocks’ cynicism that’s so unfashionable these days.

Hey, maybe he could start promising shit he can never deliver if he were elected. that’d be different.

Umm, hang on.

@11 Sunny

“That’s because you haven’t read any of the speeches and are waiting for the stunts, while condemning them. A bit like many other politicos.”

Hmmnn… thing is, I’m not sure I qualify as a politico. I’m not about to wade through Ed’s speeches in toto (which probably puts me in the company of 99% of people he’d like to have vote for him), though I have in fact taken a keen interest in what has been coming out of Newer Labour.

Perhaps, just perhaps, the real problem Sunny is not my lack of understanding or speech-reading zeal, but the lack of beef?

You can’t complain about lack of beef if you’re unwilling to look at the meat! I realise that’s 99% of the population – which is why I said speeches aren’t going to have impact, stunts will.

I couldn’t disagree more Sunny, although I see where you’re coming from.

I think Ed needs policies. They might not be the policies that will win Labour the election in 2015, but he needs policies. He needs something solid and concrete to show to the voters that he has the ability to come up with them. Yes, Labour are ahead in the polls, but Ed is massively unpopular or unknown, which is worse, amongst the majority of people. Hugging hoodies or embracing homosexuality was acceptable for the Tories, because they were so unpopular as a party when Cameron did it. It won’t work for Ed.

@16 galen10

Welcome back!

@17 Sunny

I must admit to being as guilty as Galen in not reading Miliband’s speeches. The fact that the antics of the LDs in government have more media attention is obviously imprtant, so I see where you are coming from. However many people see speeches as cheap talk, easily reneged on by the speaker and forgotten in a week anyway.

I know that it would make Labour something of a hostage to fortune but any speech or stunt needs to be backed by at least some policies. Isn’t that what’s lacking? Isn’t that the beef Galen craves?

@MatGB

Indeed, and Thatcher was always popping in to some “unsuspecting” person’s front room to blag a cup of tea, or buying a leg of lamb in a local butcher’s – trying desperately to be “of the people” – and failing miserably.

Oops, apols for numbering error!

Ed Milband says hates stunts – he’s just not that kind. I agree.

So do I. I think Labour’s suffered from indulging – and, indeed, rewarding – rather grotesque stunts. The entire New Labour project, I’d argue, was centred around a massive, flaming stunt. If Miliband is trying to resist his stuntish tendencies then I, for one, applaud him. After all, it would be hard to outdo the Conservatives: some of them are nothing but stunts and, of course, their stuntishness is far more influential.

On the other hand, I hope it isn’t just a load of wonk.

I find that this just shows many of us that we were right for saying labour isemt an alternative any more.
They are loosening the support of the people who founded the party or were activists years ago.

The key reason for this is they are out of touch with their members who have voted for them generations.

Why so much for middle England ?
When the core of the party as leaving in masses with no party to turn to.

It seams most read and make judgementss from the press lacking to see what is in front of ones eyes.
To take no notice of the people on the street seams to me a spit in the face to a lotof us.

Speaking with no sense of reality to the world out side Westminster is just daft and shows us that they haven’t got a clue.

For one saying people don’t want to work shows that he hasent been out side and talked to the millions the condems and the torys made unemployed.
Then to call some of them work shy.

Instead he should be out here asking his voters what life is like living on 120 a week to feed and cloth a family.

Or the carers that work 24 hours a day for nothing looking after the disabled in this country who are told by the torys for being alive or have kids.

Labour should be sorting out unemplment not calling people who can’t find a job.

But I forgot I have such a bad memory.
This government should be on its knees
With all they are doing.

Instead I see it do Wat it wants because the labour leadership are all mouth no action its tragic and sumwat stupid.

Get in the real world!

@ 18 cherub

Thanks.

@ 16 Sunny

As for the “where’s the beef” argument, I think you must be too much of a politico if you think the only vector for a political platform is detailed study of the glorious leader’s speeches; this is a not very charismatic leader of the near toxic Labour party we’re talking about, it’s not the thoughts of Chairman Mao!

Stunts should be left for the acrobats; let’s hear about detailed policies to tackle the economic, social and environmental problems we have. Today’s announcements might be a start, but they are pretty thin stuff after all this time.

“He could do a Tony Blair: making a big ideologically symbolic move such as ditching Clause 4. The party wasn’t going to implement Clause 4 anyway, but the move was played as a way to signal its new business-friendly attitude.”

That was a disgusting betrayal.

Just what the Labour Party needs — more advice on publicity stunts by wannabe spin doctors.

26. Planeshift

“What dramatic intervention could he perform which would catch the eye and shake the media narrative?”

Luis Enrique has the best suggestion so far.

I don’t know, I think his best chance is to create a coalition like new labour was in the mid 90s – a platform that had something for everyone. Pro-business stuff for those afraid of left wing policies, but most blairites forget that it also had stuff about fox-hunting to rally the troops.

So on the one hand clearly he needs a gimmick about immigration and welfare, perhaps he could beat up an immigrant, tell a big issue seller to fuck off, or announce that single parents will have compulsory parenting lessons. On the other hand he needs a bit of class war as well. Something like an excessive tax on cocaine, a windfall tax on tim worstall, the criminalization of tweed suits, or remove charitable status from eton etc.

He could also choose a football team to support, but this a choice that needs careful consideration – the big 4 are out, and polarizing teams like stoke, chelsea and millwall also best avoided. Norwich are a safe choice.

He then needs to get some celebs to endorse him, put up a youtube clip of him changing a nappy, get interviewed by mumsnet, and do celeb who wants to be a millionaire.

That should see him through the summer.

I’m almost afraid to say it… but he needs to do the equivalent of hugging a hoodie.

Is this kind of thing exactly what is wrong with modern politics. All style and no substance?

Arguably the most successful leader of the Labour party of the last century was Clement Attlee. Who was also by far the dullest. Yet he led the party for 20 years and has topped numerous polls as one of the greatest prime ministers of the past century.

Perhaps there is a lesson here. Perhaps people aren’t as dumb as the political classes seem to think, and can see through the attempts to disguise lack of substance with razmatazz and spin? And perhaps their belief that they can is interpreted by the public as treating them with contempt, and is perhaps why so many people are increasingly turned off by politics.

Stunts should be left for the acrobats; let’s hear about detailed policies to tackle the economic, social and environmental problems we have.

You see! This is what I mean.

Have you read the speeches? Could you offer a critique regarding the issues you mention above?

And even then, this isn’t actually aimed at blog readers. By nature you guys pay attention to politics. Most people in this country don’t.

There’s a term for what Sunny is proposing, isn’t there?

“Dog-whistle” politics.

Of course, people claim to hate spin and stunts. But they still pay attention to them.

Yes they do. And they react by turning off politics and becoming members of the ever-growing “none of the above” party.

It’s a pretty elitist argument to make, isn’t it, then “ordinary” people need political messages tailored for their sadly limited intellectual capacities? Perhaps Clause IV just needs a rework: “To secure for the workers by hand and by small, easily distracted brain, the fruits …”

30. Charlieman

@16. Sunny Hundal: “You can’t complain about lack of beef if you’re unwilling to look at the meat!”

Sunny, I think it is rather impolite to compare Ed Miliband with a canteen dinner.

Today, perhaps after a few of the comments above, we have had a policy idea from EM. I’m not going to discuss “the idea” per se because I find it impossible to believe that anyone outside the backwoods of the Conservative party would consider it workable or desirable. There is always a nasty smell in the air whenever politicians discuss the deserved and undeserved poor.

Following Brown’s quick retirement after the general election, I commented that it would be unwise for Labour to elect a leader before a period of reflection. They didn’t reflect and pronounce bat shit crazy nonsense that reflects very badly on the leader.

Fine in principle but has huge potential to backfire – how about sitting in a bath of money outside one of the major corporate banks?!!

http://outspokenrabbit.blogspot.com/

There is always a nasty smell in the air whenever politicians discuss the deserved and undeserved poor.

Not really. And the term is “derserving” and “undeserving”. The former deserve help by society because their poverty is despite their best efforts. The latter do not, because their poverty is a result of their irresponsible behaviour, and any help offered to them by society is likely to be squandered until they change it.

@28 Sunny

“You see! This is what I mean.

Have you read the speeches? Could you offer a critique regarding the issues you mention above?”

The trouble is Sunny, you don’t see, because you don’t want to. Converts are often the most fervent of course, but don’t expect the rest of us not to point out that the emperor has no clothes.

There honestly isn’t that much to critique is there? The little that HAS been talked about is desperately thin; short on detail, trite and looked at in some ways very little different from the nauseating pap served up by New Labour. Tough on crime, tough on the causes on crime… remember that one? Now we have the appeal to the hard working centre, because (mea culpa) those bad boys in New Labour were soft on the undeserving rich, and soft on the undeserving poor. It could just as easily come out of the mouth of Cameron, or IDS.

Stop the soi-distant insistance that we have to actually read the speeches… it just isn’t going to happen; I like others have better things to do. When Newer Labour actually come up with some convincing policies, I’m sure we’ll hear about it. Given the current rate of progress however, I won’t be holding my breath.

Stop the soi-distant insistance that we have to actually read the speeches… it just isn’t going to happen; I like others have better things to do.”

Well if you’ve got no time and no valuable contribution to make, why hang around blogs day after day bevaing as if you have? Best to shut up and stop making an idiot of yourself.

@34 Richard

As opposed to your pearls of wisdom you mean…? Yeah, right. The point being made is that few people will read Ed’s speeches, or any other political figures.. any more than a tiny % will read party manifestos. People are quite capable of making their minds up about the relative merits (or otherwise) of Newer Labour’s policies on the basis of what they see in the press, hear Ed and his cabinet tell them in the media, and get from a variety of sources.

I don’t need advice about making a contribution from someone who has nothing to say.

@32

There is always a nasty smell in the air whenever politicians discuss the deserved and undeserved poor.

Not really. And the term is “derserving” and “undeserving”. The former deserve help by society because their poverty is despite their best efforts. The latter do not, because their poverty is a result of their irresponsible behaviour, and any help offered to them by society is likely to be squandered until they change it.

Really!! and who prey is to decide who is “deserving” and who is “undeserving”, using what criteria apart from subjective prejudices? Should public support be based on some public popularity contest?

This is a dangerous and deeply regressive notion which rightly belongs in the pages of some Vicorian history book, not in a 21st century society.

I have had my comments deleted by someone for them being too critical of Ed Miliband but as this one compliments Mr. Miliband – I hope this stays on.

For once, I agree with Sunny on fixing Miliband’s approach. And I have read and re-read all of Miliband’s three keynote speeches.

The two successful opposition leaders in recent times (success is defined by getting in government) had built up a media image. between 2005 and 2007 Cameron had a hard time because he was and still is trying to ape Blair but since 2007 botched non-election – Cameron was expected to become the next Prime Minister and it happened.

Successful opposition leaders challenge their party and do not let their parties get trapped in their comfort zone – and so far Miliband has been contradictory and his key themes, in my opinion, are far removed from the electorates key concerns.

In addition, the speeches he delivered are definitely not bad, in fact some parts are excellent analysis of where british society is. However, the problem for the leader of the opposition is that his analysis sounds very much similar to what Cameron, IDS, Michael Gove, George Ossborne has been saying.

If that is the case then Mr. Miliband must support some of the ideas proposed by the coalition government – in fact he did so in his speech yesterday about prioritising social housing for those who work – but when asked he goes back to his tribal comfort zone and says the government policies are “woefully ineffective”.

So what would be the broad framework of your policy – the response is its too early. No wonder the electorate thinks its gobbledygook.

When MPs propose 50% tax rate for £100,000 while they increase their salaries and protect their pensions – they sound hypocritical. Most people who earn £100K in London do not have pensions and do not get the taxpayer subsidies to go to work or take their children back and forth.

So when Balls and Miliband call for bringing down the 50% rate to £100k or leaving the 50% rate on £150K they force a lot of businees owners (such as myself) to go for payments through dividend and avoid paying income taxes and use employees as suppliers. I am in not an unique situation many SMEs are forced to doing this.

So my point is, I am glad Miliband made the speech on responsibility and remembered Blair’s words about 20 years before – but Blair claimed the aspiration mantle along with responsibility.

I would also like to know how he plans on doing it without aping Cameron – because that won’t work.

*********************************************

Another key point made by someone who is truly independent yesterday – on Conservatve Home you get to see wide range of news stories including those that attack Tory ministers but in Left leaning blogs you hardly see the good things done by the coalition such as climate targets, international development aid or increasing funding for immunisation.

To many outsiders left blogs and platforms have become too tribal to interest any independents and without independents you do not win elections anymore.

Just a thought – maybe a bit balanced coverage might help the overall cause but I am sure it would fall on deaf ears.

38. DevonChap

An intervention to get noticed needs to be against type. Hence Labour leader denouncing socialism or Tory being nice to yoofs.

Labour is seen as the party of the public sector and bankers. Ed Miliband needs to do something against that sterotype. What he needs is to be a contestant on Celebrity Apprentice. Then he could show his entrepreneurial skills. That would get the publics attention. The risk is he shows none but then faint heart ne’er won fair maiden.

Really!! and who prey is to decide who is “deserving” and who is “undeserving”

The same people who already administer the welfare state, obviously.

I suppose you would want full unemployment benefits paid to people who refuse to get out of bed to attend job interviews because they’ve been up all night drinking. God help your children if those kind of “values” are being taught to them.

Ed’s most pertinent slogan has been protecting “the squeezed middle”: he is yet to articulate how he hopes to achieve it, and after the party’s second worst election result ever in 2010, Miliband has just not found a new niche for the party, who are increasingly sailing towards ideology abyss. 50% in a YouGov poll say they don’t know what Ed stands for… worryingly, most would not be able to fathom a guess as to what the other half actually think it is. If he’s not going for stunts, he’ll have to go for policy – at the moment, he’s achieved neither.

Gabriel
( redcurrent.org.uk)

My fraternal advice is that Ed needs to take on the left in his party, instead of joining its platforms and getting giddy with it. Blair dumped the left and made a point of trashing some of its favorite shibboleths. By doing so, he signalled he was ready for the responsibilities of power. Stunts are overrated — Blair’s most successful was entirely opportunist, the quivering lip and teary eye when he announced Diana’s death. Opportunities like that don’t come along very often, especially with long-lived buggers like the Royal Family, but as they say — luck favors the prepared.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. sunny hundal

    Me – "Ed Miliband doesn't need more speeches, he needs interventions" http://bit.ly/ksYCEd

  2. Andy Howell

    RT @libcon: Ed Miliband doesn't need more speeches, he needs interventions http://t.co/Anw05Q4

  3. Andy S

    Me – "Ed Miliband doesn't need more speeches, he needs interventions" http://bit.ly/ksYCEd

  4. sunny hundal

    Anyway, I don't think @Ed_Miliband should be making speeches anyway http://t.co/FYDTjhw

  5. sunny hundal

    I don't think @Ed_Miliband should be making speeches anyway http://t.co/FYDTjhw

  6. Ed Miliband’s Clause I moment « Though Cowards Flinch

    […] I moment June 25, 2011 paulinlancs Leave a comment Go to comments I am quite taken with Sunny’s notion that Ed Miliband need more ‘;stunts’ to raise his profile: Ed Milband says he hates stunts – […]

  7. Ed Miliband should get rid of Labour’s Clause I | Liberal Conspiracy

    […] Clause I by Paul Cotterill     June 27, 2011 at 8:55 am I am quite taken with Sunny’s recent notion that Ed Miliband need more ‘stunts’ to raise his profile: Ed Milband says he hates stunts – […]

  8. sunny hundal

    @french_coco PS, I addressed this here: http://t.co/EtINKjAu





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