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Ed Miliband and the Curse of Political Identities



Ed Miliband, ex-leader of the Labour Party, before the election defeat.


“Hell yes, I’m tough enough.” The endearing cry of the plucky Labour leader in March responding to a grilling by Jeremy Paxman now sounds like a pitiful joke. In the seven-leader TV debates, Miliband looked directly into the camera, attempting to seduce the viewers at home. And whilst launching Labour’s 2015 Election manifesto, Miliband declared that he was “ready for No.10”. It’s clear that Miliband tried to show voters that he was a capable, passionate and strong leader. He attempted to quieten the critics, and he dared to stand against the demonising media campaigns against him. Miliband failed to win. There are many reasons for this but I believe a key one is political identity. Sadly, I believe, it’s not about what politicians do nowadays, but who they are.

Stereotypical election campaigns have included Cameron in his kitchen or driving a snow-sled led by huskies, Nick Clegg playing ten-pin bowling or Nigel Farage having a pint at his local pub. Political leaders are seemingly desperate to be seen as normal, friendly, warm blokes. They want to be perceived as trustworthy, but more than that – they want to be human. There is something true in the message which David Cameron received in Northumberland running up to the election. “F— off back to Eton” might not be the most courteous way to put it, but to some people, politicians are all different brands of the same thing. It’s no coincidence that 41 out of 53 UK Prime Ministers have had a university education from Oxbridge.

Ed Miliband, too, had sought to gain public affirmation, although blunders in PR seemed to follow him in every way. A BBC Interview from 2011 sees Miliband give an identical robotic response to different questions about strike action in the UK. And this clip ( https://vine.co/v/MH6wnaiqxqZ) posted on Vine perfectly mimics what Labour’s PR team were saying to Miliband in a news interview. “Look natural,” is a command which Miliband had found hard to follow in his career. However, ‘Red Ed’ had faced these criticisms head on with a speech he made in 2014. He admits on personal image “it’s not where my talents lie”, taking a moment to laugh at gaffes like when he was caught out struggling to eat a bacon sandwich.

The ‘milifandom’ craze was in effort to oppose the negative media campaign targeting Miliband. The genius 17-year old who started the movement on Twitter has personally attacked Rupert Murdoch and the media monopoly which made great effort to deface Miliband. This is further evidence of the over-focus on political identity which has sweeped the nation.

Miliband himself made some very valid points, crucially against a “politics of image”, claiming in climax that “there is more to politics than a photo-op”.  Politics is about so much more than a smiling statesman. Policies that work, passion for the British people and competence to oversee the economy cannot be found in a one minute clip on YouTube. I’m not saying Ed Miliband had all of these things, but a politician’s polished campaign-trail smile isn’t enough to judge them by. In the wake of the Conservative victory in the election, some may argue that Miliband is a victim of identity attack. Whether that is true or not, beware of the curse of identity in politics. See past the smile and watch closely what the politicians are actually doing. Look not to their shiny PR-buffed digestible words but to their calculable actions.