Mr Miliband’s Big Moment
Last Saturday’s blog post by the BBC’s political editor, Nick Robinson, astutely makes a connection between perception of the present Labour Party leader, Ed Miliband, and Clement Attlee.
Attlee’s legacy is formidable. Among other measures in a truly remarkable period in British government, he presided over the creation of the national health service, and established the welfare state and free secondary education. Arguably he was the finest Prime Minister of the twentieth century and the most accomplished leader the Labour Party has ever had.
All this despite — in an era where relentless rolling news wasn’t a factor — being considered to possess a pretty dull, non-media friendly, personality; hence Sir Winston Churchill’s quote, cited by Mr Robinson in his post, “an empty taxi drew up outside 10 Downing Street and Attlee got out”.
In terms of media perception, then, there are glaring parallels between Mr Attlee and Mr Miliband. At least, there are if you believe the constant debate about Mr Milliband appearing to be prime ministerial.
But there is another parallel with Attlee which won’t be lost on Coalition government partners: despite Churchill’s charisma as a victorious war leader, Attlee walloped Churchill in the 1945 general election poll. And he won because he had a clear vision of post-war Britain.
This week’s speech by Ed Miliband may be a defining moment for a generation. If he is able to articulate a vision for Britain, he will win — outright — the next general election. If he doesn’t, his leadership will fizzle out; possibly before he reaches the national poll.
One reason that he is capable of achieving the former is that Miliband has a leadership quality which we haven’t witnessed in a party leader for at least 20 years: patience.
His speech at last year’s Labour Party conference — where he set the agenda of political debate with his characterisation of ‘predator’ and ‘producer’ capitalism — has been punctuated by significant subsequent speeches on, among other things, the economy and society.
Mr Miliband has been patiently building the foundations of the story that he has to tell the British people and, today, I suspect will bookend that series of speeches with his vision for Britain. I suspect it will be — just like Attlee’s was — unlike anything that any of the other major parties could muster.
I’m not a Labour voter but, even prior to his election as leader, I’ve been a long-term admirer of Miliband. He doesn’t worry too much about the portrayal of his popular appeal in the media; like Attlee, his brand of politics relies less on perception and more on pervasive political potency.
The media may have overestimated the importance of camera-friendliness to the British electorate. The nation is interested in the big idea, what all this social and economic pain is for, and what are we working towards. Neither the Conservatives nor the Liberal Democrats have been able — or even tried — to articulate that.
I think Mr Miliband will.