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Why the Miliband wreath row is unfair and unseemly

4 August 2014

4:16 PM

4 August 2014

4:16 PM

So Ed Miliband is in trouble with some angry people over whether or not he took enough trouble over signing a remembrance wreath. Here is the offending wreath, on the right besides the Prime Minister’s which bears a personal message.


Mark Ferguson at LabourList reports Labour sources saying they were just handed the wreath at the very last minute, and had no chance to add a personal message. Nick Clegg’s wreath was similarly bland. Number 10 says it’s standard practice for the Prime Minister to sign his wreath – and does it all the time, but perhaps the arrangements for the remembrance service all three leaders were attending were such that only heads of government could sign their wreaths, rather than lots of other politicians scribbling away too (Damian McBride argues, though, that the advisers should have planned ahead).

There are undoubtedly problems with the Miliband operation, just as there were undoubtedly serious and visible flaws in the way Number 10 got itself together until late in 2013, when things started to run more smoothly. But this could be one of those instances where it really isn’t Miliband’s fault – or that of his team. Imagine you’re a party leader, standing solemnly at a service commemorating the outbreak of the First World War. You’re handed a wreath with a message scrawled on it in rubbish black marker. In fact, it’s not a message, it’s just your name. It looks a bit like a piece of primary school artwork where the teacher has written your name in big, round, clear letters, just in case you can’t spell it yourself. It doesn’t look good. But then, neither would stopping the proceedings to protest about this message. ‘My message doesn’t look good enough!’ Yes, that would look pretty terrible, too, if a wreath-laying ceremony were held up by lower-tier politicians behaving like divas and fretting about their media image.

That Clegg’s similarly rubbish-looking wreath message has barely got any attention at all shows that this about the narrative of haplessness that dogs Ed Miliband. Usually it is pretty fair: a man who poses with Britain’s most popular newspaper, then apologises for it is hardly a master strategist. This is the sort of thing that Miliband is now expected to do because of his litany of mishaps, and this is something that should worry the Labour leader. He cannot shrug off what has happened today, although he should be right to ignore the specific accusations, if he was indeed just handed a scrawled message with no time to add his own words.

There’s also something a bit rubbish about going after a lower tier politician on a day that should be giving everyone little stings of sadness as they think about the sacrifice of the soldiers who gave their lives from 4 August 1914 onwards. Miliband and his team will likely have plenty of other intriguing mishaps to entertain us all in the months ahead: his wreath message should be the very least of the stories we tell about today, for which so many soldiers gave up their tomorrows.

On which note, here is the first of a series of extracts from the Spectator during the course of the First World War.


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