Published on 27 May 2014

Ed Miliband: trying to re-connect

Ed Miliband’s first response to the Ukip victory in the European parliament elections will be to go to Thurrock, scene of one of Ukip’s major council advances, where they deprived Labour of control of the council. And that in a marginal parliamentary seat Labour should, on paper, win easily from the Tories in 2015. The Labour leader will repeat carefully crafted “lines to take” which will be targeted at the demographic that drifted off from Labour on Thursday – or in some cases charged out and slammed the door.

He will probably go through the theatre of speaking without notes. But he’ll be speaking words carefully learnt and words that have probably kept him and his advisers agonising over the last few days and burning the midnight oil. And that, perhaps, is part of the problem.

His mentor, Gordon Brown, has some claim to having pioneered the short TV sound-bite in this country. At a time when the Labour party was trying to escape from years of mixed messages and indiscipline, and convince voters it could be trusted to run the country, Gordon Brown and the New Labour team insisted on strict adherence to the line. “Interviews” with Gordon Brown were nothing of the sort, particularly as shadow chancellor and chancellor. He would repeat the same answer no matter what you asked until you couldn’t endure it any longer and gave up. You can see here how Ed Miliband learnt from the master. And, of course, Ed Miliband is not the only one, and Labour not the only party, to rehearse its focus-grouped lines and try to stick to them.

But the established parties face a political insurgent in Nigel Farage who speaks fluent pub. I’m not sure he always did. Look at this 1997 clip and you see a younger, rather brittle Farage. But whether he learnt his style or it developed naturally as his confidence grew – it connects.

Yesterday, Mr Farage’s language was peppered with a lot of combative demotic. He was introduced as the man who’d given the established parties “a bloody nose”, he boasted that he led an “army”, he mocked his opponents with what sounded like cruel relish. Candidates to run the nation and unite it can’t engage in that sort of stuff. But they can’t use language that sends people to sleep either.

Like Boris Johnson, Ken Clarke and few others in politics, Nigel Farage’s language breaks the code, the managerial speak that infects politics. All three of these politicians could be accused of being broad brush politicians who don’t concern themselves with the detail. And detail matters. We insist our elected leaders command detail.

But we listen to them. Boris Johnson enjoys using language creatively. Ken Clarke and Nigel Farage refuse to be hemmed in by the “line to take.” All three of them don’t know exactly where their sentences are going to end so we listen to the tightrope walk just as we listen to conversation. The hermetically sealed sound-bite laden with focus-grouped phrases is unnatural, unyielding and un-engaging. It has become a barrier to communication.

Ed Miliband has the added disadvantage, which should be relatively easy to clean up, of unnecessary verbiage. He says “what I believe is,” and “this is what I believe” a lot. Nigel Farage doesn’t have to. It is, in pub speak, bleeding obvious what he believes to anyone who has been listening.

It’s not all about language. But language can help or hinder your case. In the end, if he can’t change the way he speaks, Ed Miliband may have to start pushing others in his party who can in front of the camera. We’ll see how Ed Miliband does in Thurrock around 2pm.

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6 reader comments

  1. Philip Edwards says:

    Gary,

    “…Gordon Brown, has some claim to having pioneered the short TV sound-bite in this country.”

    Like “We have abolished boom and bust” just a few months before the world economy went bust. Bang-up job, there, Gordon.

    Brown of course did not “pioneer” sound-bites. That dishonour belongs to the Thatcher gang and the Saatchis, who in turn got it from the loony neocon Yanks. What was left of decency in British politics – and it wasn’t much – went out the window a generation ago.

    As for Milliband, likely he will go down the same road as the war criminal Blair. He will sell out as surely as the rest of New Labour. If you doubt how low these people can go I suggest you view a rerun of New Labour’s “contribution” to the Commons debate on Ukraine. Some of them were almost slavering at the mouth in their support of the unelected pro-Washington mass murdering Kiev junta. Milliband is as much a nowhere man as his brother.

    It therefore almost goes without saying that Milliband will NOT “re-connect.” He wasn’t connected in the first place, except as just another New Labour career opportunist. The same goes for the tories and Cleggies. UKIP are merely a mob of boot boys temporarily useful to the establishment.

    The sum total is a thoroughly discredited corrupt system that will swing as far toward the despotic Right as it is allowed to go. Democracy is again in terrible danger.

  2. Aaron says:

    “We should *always* try to re-connect, wherever re-connection is needed.”

  3. Adam Dutton says:

    It’s easy to shoot from the hip when you don’t even stand by the policies in your manifesto. A manifesto he openly says is a bag of rubbish to be discarded. When your position is to turn up – take the money – and not do a damn bit of actual work.

    Knocking ideas down is easy. Building them is hard and Farage doesn’t have to even try to build anything. So he can say what he likes and has no other prominent colleagues to undermine his message because he hasn’t got one.

    New ideas are fragile and often very complex and need to be carefully handled in the public sphere or they would be crushed before they even had a chance. It is a terrible shame that we haven’t yet found a middle way between recklessness and boredom.

    But I wouldn’t praise Farage’s skill too highly – he’s good at what he does but what he does isn’t that hard.

  4. Stephen says:

    Every time he speaks it’s as if he just got to the podium at a national union of students conference. Compare with Blair (as well as Clarke and Heseltine) on Today this morning.

  5. Philip says:

    It’s not just about reconnecting & changing the PR image. It’s about who he is, how he got there & what he stands for. He stands for a political class largely divorced from ordinary people. What opportunities does Ed Milliband have to speak face to face – without cameras or minders – with ordinary people, to listen & perhaps try to explain a bit? Does anyone know what he really stands for? what sort of Britain he wants? He looks & sounds like a political geek, a tactician who is more interested in power than the outcomes for the British people. And it’s not what he says, but what he does. For the next 6 months he should say virtually nothing, but go round and about the country quietly & without his PR people, listening to people and reflecting on what that means for the policies he’ll put forward at the next election.
    That said, the UKIP hype is overblown. UKIP has garnered a lot of former Tory rightwingers who don’t like the EU or gay marriage, a lot of ex-BNP voters & ex-Labour voters who feel both excluded from the political process & damaged by EU migration. But come the 2015 election, these won’t be the only concerns. UKIP policies – such as they are – on tax, benefits, education, environment, the NHS, etc are highly unlikely to appeal both to their right & left wing voters. I also suspect that there will be plenty of ex-Tory UKIP voters who – faced with the choice – will return to the fold rather than risk letting Labour in.
    It also seems to me that the anti-EU vote in the EU elections – especially the NF in France – may well have given Cameron a large gift. At a minimum it will put a large spoke in the wheels of greater UK integration, as no French government is going to venture down that route. But it also offers the opportunity for a significant amount of repatriation of powers, where the UK has suddenly gained some potentially valuable allies….to the extent that the UK may be able to negotiate both some thing on “red tape” (even though much of the UK version is because we “gold plate” everything & the health & safety stuff is more about our legal compensation culture than the EU) and on getting British workers at the head of the queue for jobs in the UK, rather than what currently happens (though that is actually something where the finger should be pointing at UK businesses, not the Government). So, even though the Tories came third, it seems to me that of all the parties they have the means to seize the future & recover a lot of ground if they play their cards right……groan!

  6. H Statton says:

    On the theatrical stage of politics Ed Miliband has not truly struck a chord with everybody. However admirable his intentions, he doesn’t seem to have charisma enough to really woo the people. He does not leave his audiences spellbound or captivated and this may deter some potential Labour supporters from giving him their vote. It’s another win for the stay at home bunch.

    I was not impressed with the brand ‘New Labour’ but now at least Labour appear to be returning to their more socialist roots, and not trying to reinvent the wheel. Tony Blair’s, “Education, education, education” (!) in 1997 was for me ‘Repetition, repetition, repetition’ and not a great deal else. It was mere hyperbole.

    I am tired of hearing politicians answering their interviewer’s questions with, “Look……….” they immediately sound negative and defensive. It doesn’t appear that difficult to push them into a corner where they certainly don’t sound forcible or persuasive in their arguments.

    Hearing Ed Miliband’s speeches reminds me a little of listening to someone learning their lines in a school play. The stuttering and forgetfulness is endearing even heart-warming, but would you want them running the country, no matter how bright? Has image become overly important?

    Besides Clegg, who is now busy listening to his own death-rattle, Miliband may well have a low public impact factor on the leadership scale. He is meant to be the ‘best in show’, the embodiment of the Labour movement. Would the public have responded in the same way towards David Miliband? I can’t help but think David Miliband would have had greater magnetism.

    I have to mention Nigel Farage as he seems to have the skill set to both interact within the vibrant realm of the local pub and yet be equally at ease when required to give a more sober, scholastic interview e.g. the morning after the EU results.

    Farage was both composed and eloquent but did not sacrifice his ideals. And for this reason he cannot be referred to as some sort of political chameleon (regardless of whether or not you agree with his sentiments). He says what he believes in but his delivery of the party message is flexible. He is able to entertain in the pub and when required command centre stage with ease and confidence.

    Compared to Farage, the other party leaders seem very one-dimensional. The mainstream is predictable, colourless, and as a result unconvincing.

    It would be a crying shame for Ed Miliband’s efforts to suffer at the hands of the public’s diminished interest in the Labour party because Ed was not ‘easy on the eye’. I’m guessing that if we had a political ‘Britain’s got talent’, Ed might not get past the first round. Have we as a nation become so superficial in our judgements?

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