That weren't no DJ, that was hazy cosmic jive

Insincere Encounters of the Dopey Kind: the Ed Miliband Loop

In case Ottawa’s summer recess is leaving you with a shortage of inane, lobotomised robots parroting meaningless spin through your television, here’s a treat I think you’ll like. Britain’s Labour Leader Ed Miliband demonstrating exactly how to do media manipulation in the worst possible way.

ITV’s Damon Green asks Miliband a series of questions regarding last week’s public sector strikes. The questions are different, but the answers are positively identical. Recited, insincere non-responses, memorised in advance, and bleated out regardless of the nature of the question.

It’s part hilarious, and part extraordinarily depressing. Much like life, I guess.

It’s caused a very welcome fuss over here in Angleterre, about the nature of plastic politics and how much dopey insincerity the public should be expected to swallow.

Read Charlie Brooker’s fantastic take on the Miliband Loop, which pretty much says everything I would have said here, so I’ll save myself the typing time, and just direct you to Mr. Brooker. Also, read interviewer Damon Green reflecting on his experience of confronting an unimaginative robot with zero media engagement skills, save for the unashamed willingness to try on a speak-and-spell soundbite mantra in place of a conversation.

Filed under: Politics, UK, , , , , , ,

Labour’s wobbles and grumbles

The Labour Party riven by factions? Say it ain’t so. But new eruptions simmer, and it does not bode well. It bodes badly, actually.

The self-styled Prince of Darkness, Peter Mandelson, is, unsurprisingly, at the heart of some of this. He clearly isn’t coping brilliantly with life outside the cut-and-thrust of cabinet level politics. His unhelpful, gossipy moaning about the problems with Labour leader Ed Miliband today is probably one part bitterness that Ed pipped his brother to the post, and two parts a longing to just get in front of cameras again.

As I sit and realise that I actually sympathise with Peter Mandelson, I begin to worry that my heart must have finally been replaced with a cindered hunk of lunar rock. I agree that Ed’s been remarkably swift to lead Labour into total drift, and would be totally despondent if they fought an election with him still leading.

Miliband’s bizarre shadow cabinet, defying prediction with Alan Johnson as the chancellor’s opposite number, smelled to me like Ed was trying a bit too hard to appear “his own man,” mixing it up on his own terms, and furthermore, confident enough to appoint a “Davidist” to just about the biggest role in his caucus. O.K., maybe a kind of cackhanded move to foster new unity, but itself not a bad idea. In its execution, however, it’s contributed to a shadow cabinet that is mostly incoherent. Ed and Alan disagree on the most fundamental approaches to economic governance.

Miliband’s showing in PMQs is not very authoritative either, by his own admission:

“Look, you’ve got to be who you are. If I think of what I’ve done – I’ve done a reshuffle to put a team around me that I think is a very good team and I have taken on Cameron in prime minister’s questions in a way in which I am reasonably content. You don’t win every round of it but all of those things are important for a leader of the opposition.”

Reasonably content? I would have thought humourless and withering, unfortunately. It seems unfair, but there remains this huge gulf between his stated aspirations to instigate all kinds of profound change, and the meek, splashless way in which he goes about his arguments. The power to convince is just absent.

So, there’s my agreement with Mandelson. The problem with any recent intervention from Mr. Darkness, though, is of course his position and his motivation. As a party elder, he shouldn’t be so clearly thrilled to wave dirty laundry around whenever he feels he isn’t being listened to, either by the party or by the papers. I don’t know if he can even tell which he’d prefer to influence anymore.

It’s the job of the media (including stupid blogs) to play this kind of game, criticising parties and leaders if they’re asking for it. But it’s not the job of one of Labour’s senior statesmen to do it, whether in documentaries or memoirs or random cold calls to the Telegraph. Labour’s got to fix itself, and Mandelson could have a helpful hand in it if so inclined. But please, leave the kvetching to the rest of us.

Filed under: Politics, UK, , ,

Well, crap

Despite my previous entry, Labour hasn’t sufficiently listened. What are blogs for, anyway?

Instead, Ed Miliband has won Labour’s leadership race. Britain’s Stephane moment has arrived.

After hearing the news, I suddenly had visions of the future – of Prime Minister David Cameron with grey hair and a wizened face free of baby-fat and rich in the wrinkles of power, three terms into his PM career and gunning for a fourth, with a generation of Britons who never knew a Labour government unsure whether abandoning Cameronism would be too risky, too much of a venture into unknown territory. And Labour still looking for a leader with the panache to deliver the message for change to the masses effectively.

I don’t much pity David his tragedy – he famously turned down a post as EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs last year, precisely because he had Labour’s leadership in his sights. Yet now, his high-octane Prime Ministerial ambition has run aground all the same. But he could have won this contest with a touch more sincerity, a touch more apology, and a touch less arrogance.

Whatever David’s shortcomings in this campaign, he lost by less than 2%, and he is an effective Tory-eating machine. Ed, however, the comfort-food-candidate of vanguard socialists and union bosses, is the reverse – an endless resource for Tories to feast upon, to draw Labour as the political wing of militant unionism.

So, “Leader Ed” – here’s hoping thou dost not squander. He may not have expected to win this contest, but win he did, and despire it all, he’ll need lessons from his loser brother regarding how to win in future.

Filed under: Politics, UK, , ,

Britain’s Stéphane moment?

After the resignation of Paul Martin, when a dozen Liberals clamoured for the mantle of Party Leader, I will confess that I hoped the whole time that Stéphane Dion would win, and barring that, Bob Rae. I was gunning for Dion because I thought he was genuine, committed, progressive, and precisely because he was the “anti-Macchiavellian” – almost a non-politician.

Of course, I learned, as the Liberal Party did en masse, that apparently you need a Macchiavellian after all. Warm ideas, leftist compassion, complex but workable policy solutions, do not go far at all if not backed (or even supplanted) by ferocity, charisma, and a bit of populism and populist understanding.

I’m applying this lesson to the UK’s Labour leadership race (as I am wont to do) with its results announced tomorrow. OMG.

For the same reasons I once hoped for Dion, a good part of me now hopes for Ed Miliband. Ed is the one of warm ideas, of leftist compassion, of complex but workable policy solutions. He is not ferocious, he is not especially charismatic, and he looks to me as though he’d prefer to leave the room if a heated argument began to consume it. So, I like him.

But he’s too much like Stéphane Dion.

David can swing a political punch, and plays off a more carefully studied understanding of populist mood. He seems almost cold for his obvious lack of ideological fervour in him, but warms up on television with a better charisma and a ruthless passion to win the argument. What he might lack in sincerity, he overcompensates for in tactics. And, at the end of the day, the idealist wing of Labour will continue to have impact on the leadership, and will continue to guide the direction of the party.

So, rather than see a relatively weak character at the helm, I am doing away with an unalloyed fondness for Ed Miliband, and wishing that, for Labour to win, they will need to be tough. Canada’s Liberals are still looking for toughness, and I wouldn’t want to see Labour endure the Liberals’ recent history. In addition to that – whoever wins, David or Ed, let there please be no vindictive bitterness between them. Canada’s Liberals and the UK’s Labour both suffered from bipolar ganglandism, and to succeed, must unite – ideally with someone who can deliver a pep talk, draw a crowd, and mobilise mobilise mobilise.

So, with a bit of a heavy heart – Go David Go!

Filed under: Politics, UK, , , , , ,

The Mili-battle goes haywire

Diane Abbott suggested recently that Labour shouldn’t simply “anoint its next leader,” and it seems as though her message might be getting through. Not in the way that she perhaps intended, but in terms of affecting Labour party supporters’ perspective on the Mili-Battle.

Brother Ed is for the first time seen to be leading Brother David in the race to lead the Labour Party. Abbott’s calls for blue-sky thinking does play a role in this turn, I think, as she is someone to whom the media flocks for opinion in the leadership race, if not for seriousness regarding her own competitiveness.

But there is a real element, as well, of Brother David starting to display some very negative characteristics. Arrogance, Blairism, Condescension. It’s a simple ABC recipe for alienation.

These two Polly Toynbee interviews (15 minutes long each, but worth it: here’s David’s interview, and here’s Ed’s) are telling, with each brother highlighting some differences between them – in vision, but perhaps most crucially, in character. David is aggressive, frequently interrupting, not a little self-idolising. Ed is more responsive, thoughtful, and in many ways seems more committed to Labour ideals, if not perhaps to the principle of the party’s electability.

I see Labour’s dilemma as this: “should we be a party of principled opposition (Eddism), or a party of compromised government (Davidism)?” I suspect many Labour supporters are torn in this way – there are loads of Eddists who nevertheless consider seriously voting for David, calculating that he is the more likely victor in a 2015 slug-fest against the Tory war machine. The Tories apparently fear the same, though I find this “leak” somewhat suspect meddling from the Prime Minister….

While Eddists are convinced that Ed’s the good guy, the heartfelt intellectual with a moderated modernist vision for Labour, they’ve not yet been convinced he has the mega-watt charisma and the power to rally others to his cause. Thing is, if Eddists view David as a bit of a prick, they may now be wondering whether the whole of the country would draw the same conclusion at election time – if that suspicion snowballs, they may decide “it would be better that Labour lose for being too lefty, rather than for being too smarmy.”

Filed under: Politics, UK, , , ,


December 2019
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