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Coffee House

Who tells Ed Miliband when he’s made a mistake?

24 April 2014

10:30 AM

24 April 2014

10:30 AM

Dan Hodges’ piece in this week’s Spectator on the team around Ed Miliband is a must-read (and we’ve posted an even longer version online here). As he runs through those working with the Labour leader, a clear pattern emerges. There doesn’t seem to be a Lynton Crosby equivalent working with Miliband. One of the many things that make Crosby so important to the Conservative party is his ability to swear at them and tell them they’re doing something wrong.

Miliband doesn’t have a Crosby-esque character in that respect. Instead, all those around him seem keen to either demonstrate that they are the most loyal, in a Uriah Heep-esque display of servility, or to bolster Miliband confidence.

One of the reasons for this is that Miliband doesn’t privately give his close colleagues the impression of great confidence. Humility certainly isn’t an attribute considered that attractive in Westminster and can perhaps be mistaken by those who don’t think it a sign of strength as low self-esteem or stupidity. So perhaps the Labour leader is just a humble chap.

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His deportment does contrast with the confidence displayed by David Cameron and George Osborne, whose colleagues worry more that they might appear too triumphant too soon about the recovery. The Prime Minister and Chancellor could, some worry, fall into a trap of assuming that Miliband is a bit of a weirdo and will naturally lose next year. This is the sort of over-confident hubris that leads teenagers to christen themselves the ‘Cool People’ and lord it over others at school – although most of them manage to grow out of it by their twenties. The danger for the Tories is that they make a similar assumption about Miliband and underestimate both him and their own image struggles over being ‘out-of-touch’.

Either way, Miliband’s colleagues seem to think that he will never be arrogant and in fact needs reassuring a lot of the time. ‘Over-confidence will never be a problem,’ one of Miliband’s allies said to me when we were discussing his PMQs performance. They didn’t mean it as a compliment, particularly. But while trying to bolster Miliband’s confidence, his team may also be forgetting to tell him when something really doesn’t play well so that he can improve.

This desire to be unremittingly reassuring doesn’t just get directed at Miliband, though. Jon Cruddas is well-known in the party for having conversations with people holding all sorts of different views and sounding amenable to all of them. ‘Jon is very good at having nice chats with people and making them feel as though he’s going to do what they want,’ says one senior MP who has presumably discovered the reality.

The problem is that people do find out that their ideas were, ultimately, considered a bit rubbish in spite of the warm words when they were discussed, and not every speech by even very confident leaders works perfectly. Labour loves building Lynton Crosby up as the pantomime villain of politics, but the party could probably take a leaf out of his book at least on telling the top dogs what they don’t want to hear.

Read Dan Hodges’ piece, Meet Team Miliband, here.

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