In their rush to maintain their ideological virility while all those around them are engaging in merely tantric Red Tory/Blue Labour-ism, the press seemed to miss the most obvious and potentially dangerous moniker for Red Ed. While’s today’s debut speech was a masterclass in cautious political and policy positioning, what you also get with a top notch political wonk is the asthmatic kid with ankle-swingers and the ever-oppressed cower of someone who constantly has their lunch stolen.
Whilst there was not much that passed for charisma, we don’t tend to vote for geeks, Lembit Opik can tell better jokes, there was still too much policy jargon, Tony’s glottal stops were being painfully forced in, there was little real substance or sense of direction, it wasn’t actually that bad.
Every area where it was expected that Red Ed may slip up or aggravate tabloid/middle England sensibilities, he delivered a smooth and measured political response. There was a sensible but combative position taken on “unprincipled” Tory cuts and their lack of growth strategy, and absolutely no mention of the Lib Dems. Blarism was firmly but fairly critiqued and there was a clear and unfussy break with Iraq, there were also nods towards the social conservatism of family, community and responsibility, and an acknowledgement of the role of migration as a reserve pool of labour, disproportionately affecting the working poor most.
Hell even a focus group run by Sky News, when asked to describe Ed in a word came up with ‘passionate’, ‘fair’, ‘warm’, ‘compassionate’.
Besides, the failings of a geekdom many not be a bad thing. The ever sharp-eyed @ianmartin tweeted –
“He’s a bit awkward and nerdy and uncharismatic. Not at all like Tony…oh. This is so crazy it might work”
Politicians aren’t meant to be cool. Even cool politicians, which seemingly constitutes Oona King, are not really rocking the pages of iD (and Dave’s regular cringeworth appreances in GQ don’t count as cool) and nor should they. Blair’s ‘Cool Britannia’ whilst savvy at the time, came back to bite him and I’m sure its still difficult for all parties involved, including the public, to look at those photos without retching.
There was a time, before the matronism of Thatcher and the indenticit and contived matey-ness of Blair and Cameron, that the Great British public liked their politicians to be straightforward, straight-laced people. Even though television is said to have done for Attlee, its not as if Heath, Wilson, Eden and Macmillian were electric presences on TV and radio. And Ed is certainly not as socially and TV camera-awkward as Brown was.
It will be important for Ed and those around him to work on some of his PR ‘failings’ (the music was sooooo try-hard) but not to the extent that he erases the person that the Sky panel connected with. His quest for a new politics has been much repeated, with varying degrees of cynical intent, by all parties. He needs to build on his words about not insulting the intelligence of the public, of building an economy which is about more than the bottom line, and of an optimistic approach to the future. No easy task.
He’s not Tony, he’s not Dave, he’s not David but it might just work.