Ed Miliband has a strategy. It's called Ralph Nader

Miliband's new strategy is bold, brave, and politically suicidal

Labour's leader has a strategy. It's the wrong strategy. But it's a strategy nonetheless.

The days of drift are over. The search for definition and a coherent narrative are at an end. This week Ed Miliband will present himself as the Ralph Nader of British politics.

Nader was the quintessential east coast liberal. Ed is the quintessential north London liberal. Nader was a self-styled man of the people. In his speech on Tuesday, we will be introduced to the People's Ed. Nader was a consumer champion. Ed began this conference season going to war with the private utilities. Nader believed he could break the mould of US politics. Ed believes he can rip up the rule book that governs our own.

This comparison may seem churlish. In part it is, but it's also made with a degree of respect.

Miliband will not die wondering. This week will see him making the big political play. Miliband genuinely believes something has changed within the body politic. Labour's leader, and those around him, feel they have detected a mood in the country that the politicians, and commentators and rest of us camp-followers have missed.

"You don't understand", one of Miliband's aides told me last week. "The rules of the game have changed. You can't see beyond the New Labour playbook. Politics is different. People are looking at things differently. Ed sees that. You don't'".

He's right. I don't.

But Miliband does. Or at least he thinks he does. And now he's going to act on it. Labour's leader is going to back himself.

Much has been made about the announcement on the cut in student fees. But the most significant thing about it was the papers it was given to. Under Blair and Brown, the eve of conference briefing was traditionally used as a carrot to attract positive coverage from centre-right titles, typically the News of the World or the Sunday Times. Today Ed Miliband came home to the Sunday Mirror and the Observer. He's not just re-writing the rule book, he's re-writing the Sunday leader columns.

Look, too, at those endearing, and politically telling, official photos of Ed arriving at Limestreet with one of the kids on his shoulders. Remember, this is a man who has just been savaged in the media for not appearing Prime Ministerial. Did he choose to fight back? Arrive in an armored limo with a retinue? No. He looked like he was off visiting the Beatles museum, not making a pitch for the keys to Number 10.

The Nader strategy: I am one of you, not one of them. I will not adapt to gain entry into their world. I will make them adapt, and shape their world view to mine -- our -- world view.

It's bold, it's brave, and it's politically suicidal. But you have to hand it to him. Ed Miliband is the new Ed Cojones.

No compromise on Labour's economic message. No let up on the attacks on those at the top of society. No pandering to the right-wing press. Ed will be true to himself, and his party.

There's only one problem. The rules of the game don't change. That's why they're the rules.

Occasionally you can amend them. Reinterpret them. But you cannot do so from opposition. You can only do so from government.

But again, you have to admire Ed's chutzpah. He is leader of a party who secured 29 per cent of the vote at the last election. Since taking over the reigns, Labour's poll ratings have barely twitched. His personal ratings remain padlocked in a box, in a basement at the bottom of the deepest, darkest focus group dungeon.

His response? A declaration of total war against the British establishment. His ambition? The shattering of the Thatcherite neo-liberal consensus. His definition of success? Not just a Labour government, but an irreversible progressive revolution. Not bad for someone who less than a year ago had nothing more than a boyish grin and a blank piece of paper.

It is insanity. Wonderful, heroic, futile insanity. What does Ed Miliband stand for? By the end of this week, we will see. Where is Ed Miliband heading? By Friday the nation will know. Will they follow him there? Of course not. But nor will they be able to pull themselves away from the spectacle.

None of us will. We have not seen a senior politician attempting to defy political gravity like this in our lifetime. Michael Foot was hamstrung by ideology, Iain Duncan-Smith by insecurity.

Ed Miliband is no-one's prisoner, and he is no one's fool. "Where is the real Ed Miliband?" people have been asking. This week he'll be standing right in front of you.

"A leader has the vision and conviction that a dream can be achieved. He inspires the power and energy to get it done". Ralph Nader believed that. Ed Miliband believes it too.

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What’s the secret of the world’s best-paid sports manager? Ask the Chicago Cubs

Theo Epstein is a star because he values the person as much as the player.

As I write, the Chicago Cubs, perennial underachievers, are three wins away from reaching baseball’s World Series for the first time since 1945. By the time you read this they may have crashed out. Besides, baseball – like cricket – is a language that asks a lot of its translators. So, in writing about the Cubs, I’ll skip the baseball bits. Fortunately, the lessons of the Cubs’ success (they were the outstanding team of 2016, even if they don’t win the World Series) transcend baseball.

To understand the future of sport – and perhaps employment – I recommend a pair of profiles of Theo Epstein, the president of baseball operations for the Cubs, one published in the New York Times and the other written by David Axelrod (Barack Obama’s strategist) for the New Yorker.

Epstein, 42, has just agreed a contract extension worth $50m over five years, making him the highest-paid non-player in professional sport. There is plenty in the profiles on his whizzy use of data analytics; his algorithmic tests that measure players’ co-ordination (essentially using neuroscience to measure talent); as well as the Cubs’ coaching programme dedicated to mental health and managing stress. Most timely and important of all is Epstein’s emphasis on character. He talks about “scouting the person more than the player”. He wants the right kind of people on the field.

“In the draft room [where the team decides which players to sign], we will always spend more than half the time talking about the person rather than the player,” he has said. “We ask our scouts to provide three detailed examples of how these young players faced adversity on the field and responded to it, and three examples of how they faced adversity off the field.”

Epstein is well known for empowering a “geek department” inside his baseball teams. Yet instead of perceiving a conflict between science and the human realm, he sees the two as part of the same big picture. He craves players with character who can benefit from the insights of science.

“Character” is a vexed subject inside sport. It sets off uncomfortable associations. Talking too much about character – building it, or even just valuing it – sounds dangerously close to endorsing an amateur ethos. Victorian public schools often celebrated sport explicitly in opposition to intelligence, even achievement. H H Almond, the headmaster of Loretto from 1862, got an A for candour (if nothing else) when he ranked his school’s priorities: “First – Character. Second – Physique. Third – Intelligence.”

The Victorian notion of games cast a long shadow over sport and society in the 20th century. The first phase of ultra-professionalism, in the office as well as on the sports field, was a reaction to Almond’s set of values. The concept of character was recast as a consolation prize, doled out to the class dunce or the twelfth man. Crucially, reformers and nostalgics alike bought in to the historical perception of a separation or conflict between character, intellectual life and sporting achievement.

The Cubs, however, know better. To adapt Almond’s clumsy saying: intelligence and physical skills derive, significantly though not entirely, from character. Character is now being understood not as the destination, but the foundation, even the process.

This is an overdue reassessment. In the loosest terms, I would identify three phases in the development of professional sport. Phase one optimised the body. Sadly, though we are still inching forward, the human body is now reaching the outer wall of virtuosity. All sports will tail off in speed of progress, in terms of pure physicality.

Phase two of modern sport turned to psychology. Realising how hard it is to gain an edge through physical conditioning, everyone suddenly started talking about the mind: the inner game of this, the mental game of that. However, reconfiguring the mental approach of elite athletes – already in their twenties and thirties, with deeply ingrained habits and highly evolved psychological software – is also exceptionally difficult. That is why many top athletes recoil from conventional “sports psychology”; the discipline is oversold and under-sceptical.

We are now entering phase three: the whole person. Sustained high achievement relies on something much deeper than a few sessions with a sports psychologist. So you need the right people in the room.

Coaches in future will be numerate and intellectually unthreatened by the scientific advances that illuminate sport. But the best coaches will never lose sight of a parallel truth: that although science can help us to understand what happens on the sports field, and sometimes how to do it better, it cannot conveniently convert athletes into inert particles, as though it were a ­physical science. Coaching can benefit from ­science but remains an art – one that revolves around understanding and helping people.

In most sports, players and coaches are really in the business of decision-making. The winning team, as Pep Guardiola says, makes more good decisions. Sport, in other words, advances when it trains people to make better decisions. There are now highly evolved analytical techniques for understanding how those decisions influence results. However, the athletes themselves are still people, imperfect and imperfectible. If you want machines, you get dummies.

This month, I was asked to found a new institute of advanced sports studies at the University of Buckingham. The mission is to create undergraduate and postgraduate courses that attend to the entire mindset – critical thinking, ethics and leadership, as well as data analytics and sports science: a kind of “PPE of sport”. After a misleading triple fissure – character, body, mind – sport is starting to put the pieces back together again. That’s why, this month, I’m rooting for Epstein’s Cubs.

Ed Smith is a journalist and author, most recently of Luck. He is a former professional cricketer and played for both Middlesex and England.

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood