Coffee House

Why Ed Miliband’s public image matters

29 July 2014

6:49 PM

29 July 2014

6:49 PM

For a politician to draw attention to his own deficiencies is a desperate attempt to curry favour with the electorate that has been tried before with dismal consequences. The most famous case is that of the former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith who, at his 2002 party conference, addressed the problem of his dullness as a political performer by saying that no one should ‘underestimate the determination of a quiet man’. One result was that Labour backbenchers would raise a finger to their lips and say ‘shush’ whenever this croaky-voiced man was speaking in the House of Commons. He tried to sound tougher at the next year’s Conservative conference by saying that ‘the quiet man is here to stay, and he’s turning up the volume’; but this made him look even sillier and only hastened his overthrow as party chief.

Ed Miliband did something similar when he confronted his wretched personal ratings in the opinion polls by admitting to looking weird and being useless at photo opportunities. But he tried to make these deficiencies seem like virtues by suggesting that he was bravely standing up against a ‘showbiz’ culture that was creating disillusionment with politics today. ‘I am not from central casting,’ he said. ‘You can find people who are more square-jawed, more chiselled, look less like Wallace. You could probably even find people who look better eating a bacon sandwich. If you want the politician from central casting, it’s not me, it’s the other guy.’ The other guy, David Cameron, was a master of presentation, of the photo-op; he, on the other hand, was a man of principle, one who cared about people, for whom good policies were all that mattered. It was inevitable, therefore, that some should ask why he had hired a voice coach, a ‘posture’ adviser, an ‘empathy’ expert, and an American spin doctor.

Self-deprecation can work. Ronald Reagan was a master of it. But when he said, ‘It’s true hard work never killed anybody, but I figure, why take the chance?’, he wasn’t drawing attention to a perceived defect but re-
enforcing a much-loved popular image. It wasn’t actually true that he was idle — his diaries show that he worked very hard — but Americans warmed to the idea of a relaxed, easygoing man in the White House; it made them feel comfortable and safe. Reagan may in some small respects have been a bit of a fraud, but he was basically authentic; and authenticity is surely the quality that a successful leader must have. But as Ed Miliband will discover, you can’t spin yourself into authenticity.

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You can be authentic and still unpopular, of course. Edward Heath was an example. But you can’t earn respect without it. Margaret Thatcher was loathed by many people, but the undoubted strength of her convictions brought her victory in one election after another. As her former PR guru Lord Bell wrote this week in the Daily Mail, ‘It is one of the great myths of her rise to the leadership that she was an artificial construct manufactured by PR figures like myself and Gordon Reece…The idea that someone as tough and self-confident as Mrs Thatcher could be a puppet in the hands of advisers is just nonsensical.’ Boris Johnson could hardly be a more different figure, but his own brand of authenticity — that of a person who is true to himself and doesn’t even hide his flaws — is one reason for his enormous popularity.

This is not to say that presentation doesn’t count; think of Tony Blair. And David Cameron, while failing to convince people of his genuineness, has achieved much with his presentational skills. The old man who used to mow my lawn, the wise and cultivated Patrick Parkes, who sadly died this week, had been a lifelong Labour voter; but he told me he was pleased when Cameron became prime minister because he looked the sort of person who could convincingly represent Britain abroad. This is something else that people mind about, and it doesn’t work to Ed Miliband’s advantage.

There may, however, be more to Miliband than meets the eye. According to Ann Treneman, the political sketchwriter of the Times, who claims to have watched him ‘more than most’, he is not merely ‘detail-driven and an obsessive, an ideologue who believes he can take Britain into a new world with his policies’ (which are indeed very left-wing); he is a ‘baseball fanatic’ who is so infatuated with this American sport that he ‘is on his way to founding a religion about baseball’. This may well be completely authentic, though I don’t see how it will help him very much over here.

This is a preview of Alexander Chancellor’s ‘Long life’ column from this week’s Spectator. To receive three months of magazine for just £12 click here.


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Show comments
  • evad666

    Who?

  • Diggery Whiggery

    “Ed Miliband did something similar when he confronted his wretched personal ratings in the opinion polls by admitting to looking weird and being useless at photo opportunities.”

    That’s great Ed but as you seem to wish to be this country’s principal salesman on the world stage, that’s a problem. If you look weird, useless and weak, we’ll all look weird, useless and weak.

  • Terry Field

    None of this codswallop matters a jot – the bought-vote slobocracy, whose numbers blot out the sun, will ensure he becomes the next prime-idiot.

  • Ilya Grushevskiy

    Ed Milliband – the man who stabbed his own brother in the back to get further in life. He has image problems because he has underlying character problems.

    If anyone can trust him, all I can say is – are you more important to him than his kin was?

    A man like him deserves less respect than Putin imo. He’s no authoritarian mind you, just a coward… which can turn out worse.

  • Amir

    Read my interview with Norman Lamont over Labour, the immigration, Europe, economy, reshuffle and Scotland:

    http://www.casualpolitics.co.uk/2014/07/lord-norman-lamont-speaks-to-casual-politics/

    • the viceroy’s gin

      No.

  • Amir Onfray

    Read my interview with Norman Lamont over Labour, the immigration, Europe, economy, reshuffle and Scotland:

    Casualpolitics.co.uk/2014/07/l…

  • HJ777

    If Miliband is “detail driven”, why do his speeches and pronouncements lack any content whatsoever?

  • wudyermucuss

    First Foot.
    Then Kinnock.

    And now this.

  • sfin

    It’s a sad fact of Western Democratic politics today, that, in order to succeed, you have to conform to a certain stereotype…

    Like most of Western Democratic culture – it is US driven and led by PR, marketing and spin. Physical appearance is crucial – a full head of hair, fairly neutral accent, heterosexual (for now) and married (why do you think Milliband married his partner after years of cohabiting?). In short, the stereotype in the US has all wannabes looking like thunderbird puppets, whilst in UK, it is the best education your ideology can buy (Eton, London Oratory etc), followed by PPE or Law at Oxbridge.

    The rise of the forty something professional politician has meant that we are now ‘managed’ rather than ‘led’. Clinton and Blair were the epitome of this trend and democratic politics worldwide has tried to copy the formula – lying to its electorate and turning politics into a self advancing career. It is, in my view, a major curse of living in these times.

    Can you imagine a Churchill (sloshed half the time!) or a shrill middle class oik like Thatcher, rising to the top today? Neither fitted today’s strictly, celebrity, people’s princess, selfie, me, me, me, diversity, multicultural, liberal intervention (and leave the country in chaos), PC, tweeting, get me out of here, vacuous, western ‘democratic’ (increasingly less so with regards to the EU) society.

    I couldn’t give a toss that Ed Milliband doesn’t do photo ops well, or that he looks like Beaker from the Muppet show – actually I find it rather refreshing. What I do care about is that he has a Marxist upbringing and education and is a part of the Fabian tendency that has sought to destroy the traditional British way of life for many years.

    He and his party will never get my vote. I vote UKIP.

    • HookesLaw

      You overstate your case.

      • sfin

        Ah! Hookey – a genuine belly laugh at that one! Thank you!

        I was trying not to rant – but proof reading the original – you may have a point!

        • Colonel Mustard

          No, you rant away. The idiots in Westminster deserve it.

    • Colonel Mustard

      Brilliant rant. People should rant a lot more. Instead of being distracted by the “witches” the politicians set up to divert the mob we should rant at the politicians. Ceaselessly and angrily.

  • Terry Field

    Stuff the image codswallop – the guy is ACTUALLY an extreme socialist and is massively dangerous and subversive of the English settled life.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      …so, like Dave, then?

    • Portendorfer

      And like all socialists mentally unstable.

  • Brigantian

    Presentation hardly matters when you are bank rolled by property billionaires in return for opening up the Green Belt to development and have the BBC brain washing the mob into believing that your weird fantasies are mainstream public opinion.

  • http://owsblog.blogspot.com Span Ows

    caption to the image: “d’oh”

  • Grey Wolf

    Why is this article here? A bunch of nonsense pieced together to please some Tory dimwit? Are there any standards at Speccie?

  • Jock

    It is remarkable pitch. “Don’t make me PM despite my appearing gormless and hapless. Make me PM because I appear gormless and hapless.”

    • Alexsandr

      I can see frau frump in the Reichstag. ‘I cant vait for ze useless vone to become PM zen I can valk all over ze englanders. Mwhahaha!’

      • monty61

        Wasn’t that 2010?

  • Archibald Heatherington

    Ah, dear old Beaker. I’d much rather vote for Wallace. He can at least build a moon rocket. What can Millipede do?

  • Archibald Heatherington

    There’s a stark choice. Vote Tory or get Ed. Please, even if you don’t like David, don’t condemn me to live in Ed’s Socialist People’s Republic of Britain.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      Well, I’d suggest you not split the UKIP vote, if that’s your concern .

      • Archibald Heatherington

        If only there could be a right wing electoral pact between all the non-closet-lib Tories and non-old-labour UKIPers. That could save us.

        • Alexsandr

          that would drive away many ukippers. they hate the tories.

          • Archibald Heatherington

            I’m not so sure, kippers I’ve met while canvassing largely just want to be comforted and are happy to come back. There’s a substantial overlap of opinion between conservative Tories and non-protest-vote kippers.

            • HookesLaw

              And the tory party are meeting those concerns.
              it explained it wanted to reduce immigration on its manifesto and its working to that in power
              It wants to renegotiate our position in the EU.
              But the loony kippers are not interested in reality – they just keep on inventing excuses.

              • Ooh!MePurse!

                Indeed, one excuse after another. Ukip has lost any credibility or integrity they might have ever had. Go back to your 3% and leave the adults to elect a majority Conservative government for the good of us all.

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  The only thing going anywhere is Call Me Dave’s head, onto a spike, in 9.25 months time.

              • Archibald Heatherington

                Frankly, I’m not that interested in reality either – PG Wodehouse novels are a nicer place to spend time. The point is though, the only way that UKIP voters can actually achieve any of their aims is by doing two things: 1. Voting Tory in 2015 to avoid a Labour government. 2. Joining the party and making their opinions known in a constructive way; policy ought to reflect the views of a party’s members. In some notable cases Cameron has inexplicably strayed from this principle – vast numbers of us stand by Section 28! – but broadly, the party does try. If you want climate scepticism, flat tax rates, out of EU, robust stance on Islam, etc., then join the Tories and do something about it, rather than standing alongside a load of socialists who are just fed up with New Labour. Join me and the others who are returning the Tories to Tebbit, Hurd, Churchill et al. glory from within!

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  Call Me Dave and the Camerloons are global warmingist nutters, like all socialists .

                  Call Me Dave and the Camerloons jacked taxes as a first task, like all socialists.

                  Call Me Dave and the Camerloons are EUSSR lovers, and have no intention of getting out of the EUSSR, as they openly state, like all socialists.

                  Call Me Dave and the Camerloons are supporting the islamofascist murderers in Libya, Syria and now Iraq, like all socialists. No, wait, the Milliepdes backed out over Syria, so Dave and Clegg stand alone as socialist nutters on that one .

                  You are wrong on every count, lad. Go back to Camerloon HQ and try again .

                  And remember, in 9.25 months, Call Me Dave is going to have his head mounted on a spike .

                • southerner

                  “Joining the party and making their opinions known…” Yes the trouble with that is Cameron and those that surround him hate the party and treat the members with contempt. If you think you are going to change the socialist Camerloons from within you are utterly deluded. Where is the evidence you are “returning the Tories to Tebbit…” etc?

                • auntyeleet

                  Hurd? Don’t think he would inspire anyone to vote Conservative, shouldn’t be mentioned in the same breath as Norman Tebbit, another “We know best” public schoolboy.

              • southerner

                “Wanting” to do something is not reality either (though actually they don’t want to anyway – it’s all a lie as anyone with half a brain knows).

          • HookesLaw

            But its OK to attract socialists?

            But you said it – glad to see you admit it. it explains all the lies that UKIP spout about the tories.
            UKIP want to destroy the conservative party as part of some loony plan to create a hegemony over the right wing vote. Its something which would eviscerate support for right wing policies and hand power to Labour and or LibLab.

            • the viceroy’s gin

              You Camerloons are socialist nutters, laddie, like all of LibLabCon. You have already long destroyed that party, you muppet.

              But I suggest you not split the UKIP vote, if LibLab frighten you that much.

      • Ooh!MePurse!

        But the Conservative vote dwarfs the Ukip vote.

        Vote Ukip, get Labour.

        • sfin

          It doesn’t matter anymore, who you vote for out of Lib, Lab or Con. You will get a forty or fifty something, Law or PPE Oxbridge graduate, who is a career politician and who wants to manage the UK as part of a federal Europe on his career path to global political status.

          Strategic voting is a con that these shysters rely on.

          Read the policies and vote accordingly.

          • Ooh!MePurse!

            I’m in agreement with much of what you have written here. However, I have a deep and sincere hatred of the left and will always vote for the party that stands the most chance of preventing them getting their greasy mits on any lever of power.

            • the viceroy’s gin

              You must hate Call Me Dave, because he is a pure socialist.

              Suggest you not split the UKIP vote, lad.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          Actually, you Camerloons got dwarfed last May, laddie. You may have missed that.

          You best not split the UKIP vote, then.

      • whs1954

        No such thing as ‘splitting the UKIP vote’, which at general elections is about 4%. There is such a thing a splitting the 36% Tory vote.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          If you’d like to place a bet on either of your electoral predictions, lad, I’m game. But you’re not game, if you’re smart, which is the measure of your belief in what you’re blatherirng there.

          As I say, best you not split the UKIP vote .

    • Alexsandr

      Llets stop this ‘vote for a party you don’t like to stop another party you don’t like getting in’ carp.
      Lets all vote for who we want to win. that’s how its supposed to work.

      • Archibald Heatherington

        I’ll know whom to thank when I’m paying more than half my money in income tax+disguised taxes, then. Vote Nigel get Ed.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          If you’re so terrified of the Millipede, I suggest you not split the UKIP vote, laddie.

          • the viceroy’s gin

            Oh, and your buddies the Camerloons are tax hogs, just like the rest of the LibLabCon socialists.

      • HookesLaw

        No – thats not how it works.
        Wake up.

    • wudyermucuss

      The journey is long.

      Ed gets in.
      Devastates Britain even more than Blair/Brown.

      Labour in permanent wilderness.

      At worst,a ConKip coalition.

      • Archibald Heatherington

        Why is my reply being moderated?!?

      • Archibald Heatherington

        They’re “waiting to approve” my reply to you. Suffice it to say, I’m worried Ed will abolish democracy if he’s elected. There, is that self moderation enough?

      • Archibald Heatherington

        The moderators have repeatedly deleted my reply to you. I demand justice!

      • Joseph Alan Jones

        That’s what the dumbrits will do, stake your shirt on it!

  • telemachus

    The narrative marches on
    There is nothing wrong with the image
    A shirt sleeved man of Middle Britain
    With policies to care for all the population

    • Alexsandr

      he is so vacuous that all he has is image and thats defective.
      if all he cares about is image then he should be on big brother, not politics.

      • telemachus

        They cannot complain now. The “blank page” that Miliband once referred to has not so much been filled as flooded. In the past nine months he has pledged to freeze energy prices, to build 200,000 homes a year by 2020, to abolish the “bedroom tax”, to reintroduce the 50p tax rate, to create two new banks, to devolve £20bn of funding to city regions, to cap rent increases and, most recently, to link the minimum wage to median earnings. Having once been accused of having vision but no “retail offer”, the Labour leader quips to friends that he is now accused of having a retail offer but no vision.

        • Alexsandr

          lets see
          freezeenergy prices. so that will cut investment in our energy infrastructure. No mention of his greenery causing misery for million tho.
          build 200000 homes. well how will he pay for that. what will that do for flooding. and no mention that the housing shortage is because of the last labour governments uncontrolled immigration.
          there is no bedroom tax. its a spare room subsidy. Will he reintroduce spare room subsidy for private tenants as their spare room subsidy was cut by…… labour. or will it be 1 rule for public housing tenants one for private tenants?
          How will he pay for the 50%tax rate. Treasure figures show cutting it to 45% increased tax take. look up laffer.
          and an increase in minimum wage will cut employment as businesses wont be able to afford to employ people. and tagging a minimum wage to median will not work, as more people get minimum wage the median will rise. so that may be a tad inflationary.
          good policies there then..

          • telemachus

            It is of course the job of the political opposition to dissect and condemn perfectly reasonable policies
            However the purpose of the post was to show that there are oodles of policies
            What we are seeing is the media narrative
            Trumpeted by all the right wing outlets
            Fortunately the public at large like the soundbite policies and will ignore the narrative

            • Alexsandr

              oh i get it. get elected on a lie again. what scum the left are.

            • Inverted Meniscus

              There are no policies you idiot just sound bites that disintegrate the moment they are delivered.

        • Jules Wright

          Flooded yes. With utter cobblers.

        • Inverted Meniscus

          Comedy Gold. Every utterance, you cannot dignify that crap with the word ‘policy’, that this preposterous idiot delivers is shot down in seconds. Fixing prices in a global energy market is probably my favourite because that took a real special kind of economic illiteracy and stupidity. Rent controls represented another stratospherically idiotic bleating. There is no end to Militwat’s idiocy and lack of credibility. You can run up and down these threads spreading Labour bilge 24/7 but the public recognises an idiot when it sees one and Ed fits the bill as does the other one.

    • Ron Todd

      From the perspective of the likes of Harriet Harmon he might look like middle Britain from where I am he is another labour rich posh boy.

      • telemachus

        Most in political leadership have more resources than you or I
        However the key is using your talents to make a difference for those less fortunate than you
        Ed does that

        • Jules Wright

          At the expense of the goose and its golden egg. Which I probably need to remind you, is the individual and corporate private sector. Everything else is pure overhead.

          • telemachus

            Those who can should
            And share
            And care

    • Inverted Meniscus

      And another thread polluted with your crap.

    • McRobbie

      Of all your supercilious comments to date to now refer to millionaire marxist milie, he who has never ever ever worked, as a shirt sleeved man of middle britain is the most laughable….and sad.

      • Alexsandr

        whats sad is i think he really believes this cr@p.

    • Colonel Mustard

      Middle Britain? The privileged wonk son of Belgian-Polish communist parents brought up on a diet of Fabianism and socialist theory, cloistered amongst Marxist/Fabian fellow travellers his whole life and parachuted into a safe Labour seat then parachuted into the leadership by the hard left unions.

      This man is a political ideologue, a union puppet surrounded by Gordon Brown’s re-heated has beens who would be very bad for Britain indeed. Your soviet-style “Dear Leader” hagiography can’t alter that reality. Don’t confuse the narcissistic euphoria of a Labour conference with what MIddle Britain is or thinks.

      Kim Jong Ed is leading a Labour party with ageist, sexist, racist policies which seeks to divide the country into warring identity groups in order to rule over it.

      Words – Actions – Consequences. Labour do plenty of the first, usually mess up the second and never consider the third.

      • HookesLaw

        You said it – so just vote to keep him out.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          …so you agree, it’s not wise to split the UKIP vote. Good lad.

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