An Ed Miliband communications 101

Or, how to avoid car crash radio interviews.

Have a listen to the opening few seconds of Ed Miliband’s 5 Live interview from earlier this week and you learn everything you need to know about his communication problems. And he doesn’t even have to open his mouth.

Firstly, Ed, or those around him, likes to look clever. Academic. Statesmanlike. How fabulous the phrase “Patriotic Industrial Activism" must have looked on paper, how grandiose, the words of an intellectual.

There is a place for such language. It’s usually in some sort of scholarly paper. It’s not mid morning on 5 Live.

Secondly, how long would it take you to answer that question, to explain "Patriotic Industrial Activism" in plain English? Personally, I would have said “Buy British". Slightly facile perhaps, a little over simplistic -- but nevertheless, plain English.

Ed takes 53 seconds to answer. After which, frankly, most people were none the wiser.

I’ve a funny feeling that Ed and the folk around him feel that giving succinct answers using everyday language may be patronising listeners, selling them short. They’re wrong. To my mind it’s language that’s been Ed Miliband’s biggest obstacle in connecting with the public.

David Cameron totally gets this. I’m often struck by Cameron’s use of everyday language to get his message home.

A great example was when he was informing the House of Commons that he had authorised the use of force in Libya, through air strikes. Can there be any more serious subject on which a prime minister addresses the House? I suspect Ed would have said something like “I have judged that it would be prescient at this juncture to intervene to avoid further humanitarian distress."

Cameron didn’t. He said “We’ve acted in the nick of time".

There is a certain irony in the old Etonian using the language we all use on a daily basis to connect with the population at large (in order to downplay his not-of-our-world ness), while the leader of the Labour Party feels the need to talk like a university professor, nervous that otherwise folk won’t think he’s up to the job.

We know Ed isn’t a natural communicator -- who will ever forget his interviews on the public service sector strikes -- but it’s his inability to touch a common nerve that is at the root of so many of his problems. All the abuse he gets throughout the rest of the interview has almost nothing to do with policy, positioning or belief. It’s all based on an assessment that people don’t think he gets it, or isn’t up to the job.

They are not rejecting his intellectual position -- they’re not getting that far.

Most people would grasp the basic tenet of his argument if he said “Buy British". They’re probably not going to spend a great deal of time interrogating the nuanced subtleties of “Patriotic Industrial Activism".

And you cannot sell to a man who isn’t listening.

 

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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