When Roxy Music made their first TV appearance on The Old Grey Whistle Test, whispering Bob Harris was not impressed. He said something along the lines of: “if that`s the future of music, you can keep it”. Whispering Bob thought that glittery clothes, naked ambition and mascara were no substitute for actual talent. That was in 1972.
It has to be said that Ed Miliband delivered an effective and powerful speech in Manchester yesterday but we have to consider the motives and rationale of the leader`s keynote address to the party conference faithful. Since becoming the leader of the opposition in a long drawn out melodrama of intrigue and conniving, Miliband has, to put it mildly, under-performed and Labour strategists realised that they had a problem. It wasn`t that Ed lacked intellectual savvy or political insight. It wasn`t that he was a drunk or corrupt. It wasn`t that he was a barking mad Stalinist. The problem was that his image did not appeal to floating, sinking or clinging to the rocks of ideology voters. The message of his speech was: “Like me, please like me. For heaven`s sake LIKE ME.”
So we were told of his families tragic past, given heart-warming anecdotes of a walk in the park with his son, telephone calls to his dear old mum and references to his late father probably disagreeing with Ed the Red policies. Policies, ah yes, might be best not to mention them. Delegates in the hall were, of course, enraptured by this new, confident, relaxed and funny Ed Miliband. Geek boy had become presidential and the man in a state had become a statesman. He worked the crowd to their feet by describing the current government as an “incompetent…miserable shower”. He is, of course, entirely correct and this was only slightly less satisfying to the rank and file as running a front door key down the full length of a badly parked Lamborghini. Union representatives, however, might react to the news of a continuing public sector pay freeze and an intention not to reverse some of the savage cuts to public services with all the enthusiasm of a Girl Guide camp blessed by a visit from the late Sir Jimmy Saville.
He summoned up the shades of Clement Atlee and, curiously, Benjamin Disraeli and spoke of “One Nation” politics presumably as an antidote to “Big Society” politics. This duck-billed platitude is like making a choice between the X-Factor and Britain`s Got Talent as to which is the most abhorrent or fatuous. Disraeli actually proposed One Nation Conservatism in which very wealthy, philanthropic millionaires making fortunes would bestow their munificence on the undeserving poor in order to make more profit for very wealthy, philanthropic millionaires. Miliband talked of the broadest shoulders taking the broadest responsibility in society and, carefully coached, rehearsed and tutored, looked directly into the camera lens and told the banks to sort themselves out before the next election. In Iceland, a catalyst of the financial crisis, bankers were sent to prison and politicians complicit in fraud were removed. That nation now has growth and recovery.
Miliband talked of the iniquity of the reduction of the 50p tax rate but gave no commitment to reverse it. He talked of the madness of privatised railways but gave no commitment to return the rail network to public ownership. He talked of the disastrous consequences of cuts to social care and welfare but gave no commitment to reversing the human rights atrocities being committed by Old Etonians. He did, however, promise to repeal the bogus legislation designed to slaughter the NHS. There was, however, no mention of curbing the greed and wickedness of PFI contracts with the likes of ATOS, Serco and Virgin; contract set up and encouraged by previous Labour government.
The crowd loved his attacks on the odious Andrew Mitchell, the ridiculous Jeremy Hunt and the very disturbing Michael Gove. The crowd conveniently forgot the odious Alistair Campbell, the ridiculous Lord Adonis and the disturbing Ed Balls. Miliband wants us to think he is different from the rest but without any actual policies, waiting for the current bunch of self serving idiots to crash and burn is like waiting for Godot. Rather than a weak attempt at claiming the middle ground, One Nation Labour should return to the basic premise of politicians as servants and not as masters. The tactical mistake of wearing Tory clothes might just result in a continuation of this madness.
The BBC and in particular Nick Robinson have ambitions beyond their current role as official PR spokespersons for the Conservative party under the tutelage of Chris Patten. They ran the story under a “man enjoys sound of own voice for 70 minutes without notes” headline. Robinson will demand a safe Tory seat in the next election in return for cutting in an excerpt of Cameron`s speech into Miliband`s speech on the 10 o`clock news. Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight could not resist quoting Shylock from the Merchant of Venice at the top of the programme and then went on with subtle allusions to the similarities between Disraeli and Miliband in terms of origins of faith. You don`t have to scratch the surface too deep before the stereotyping emerges. We live in dangerous times.
Whispering Bob Harris upset a few people back in 1972 by suggesting that Roxy Music were shallow, arrogant and not very good. After a couple of interesting albums, Brian Eno left and the band turned into a bland lounge act. Style and fashion became more important than content and now Bryan Ferry makes a living by doing Terry Wogan impersonations.
If Ed`s speech is the future of the Labour party, you can keep it.