Ed Miliband speaks to supporters at Redbridge on May 1, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
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This week revealed the real Ed

By presenting himself to voters as who he truly is, the Labour leader has given himself a chance of winning their respect and understanding. 

From the White House to Westminster, Ed Miliband presented himself this week to the world as the man he truly is - a smart, slightly geeky politician who cares about big problems and knows how to fix them.

Politicians can be respected, feared, liked or trusted for a host of reasons. But key to almost any politician's success in connecting with the electorate is their authenticity. To my mind the moment George W. Bush beat John Kerry was actually in their first debate when he said: "I understand everybody in this country doesn't agree with the decisions I've made. And I made some tough decisions. But people know where I stand. People out there listening know what I believe." That level of authenticity and consistency was powerful enough to re-elect a man in the middle of a losing war with a weak economy. It is that strength of clarity that the best politicians embody.

For the earlier attempt to sell Ed Miliband as "a man of the people" (the semi-fictitious "Mr Normal" effort) failed. But it is not too late to present Ed to the electorate as who he truly is - a very smart, deeply honest politician who cares deeply about tackling inequality and changing the economy fundamentally so that society itself is transformed.

As Mark Ferguson rightly noted, this meant not just presenting his strengths but also, in that wonderful maxim of veteran politico Chris Matthews, "hanging a lantern on his problem" and owning up to his own presentational weaknesses. By ceding this ground to Cameron he has given away nothing that he could have won anyway and stands to gain much in terms of authenticity and thus connection with the electorate in the months to come.

But today's speech was about more then political positioning. There was a serious point too. Miliband hit on a resonant insight, that of politics having become "a game that fewer and fewer people are watching, or believing." This is something previous Fabian Society research has shown: "Politics is a game played by an out of touch elite who live on another planet" was one of the main criticisms people made of politicians. The solution people tend to reach for is of more representative politicians, drawn from a broader pool than the professional political classes. But Labour’s leaders are who they are: Andy Burnham recently recognised “we’re the professional politician generation”.

So being authentic is a wise play, and one that can position Miliband as a different type of political leader, for an age when people don’t believe in political leadership. Miliband must win back trust – and his pledge to give power away to people is the right policy agenda to match his personal leadership pitch. But being authentic is a high stakes game, with a special responsibility then to walk the walk. This is a Miliband who has learned the danger of dining out on taking on Murdoch only to then sit down with his paper. He knows now, as he ever did, he’s best at his boldest.

This week we saw the Ed Miliband that rejects the gimmicks of Cameron's hug-a-huskie and instead speaks with President Obama about Iraq, Israel and Afghanistan. This is the Ed that's ready for Number 10.

By presenting Ed to the British people as who he actually is, as was the case with the 2012 One Nation speech, or indeed the Redbridge launch of the local and European election campaigns, Ed can win back voters' respect and understanding by being his own man.

Marcus Roberts is the deputy general secretary of the Fabian Society and served as Field Director of Ed Miliband's leadership campaign.

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“Rhodes must fall,” chants the crowd. But bringing down an imperialist’s statue won’t change the past

“Rhodes is a metaphor for the fact that the university is not a fully inclusive space,” says Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh.

You’ve got to look quite hard to spot it: a statue four feet high, rather attractive and informal, way above street level, on the façade of Oriel College on the High Street in Oxford. The only way you would know that it was Cecil John Rhodes, apart from the Latin inscription beneath the figure, is that he is wearing a three-piece suit and holding his familiar slouch hat in his right hand. Around this manikin a row of surprising proportions has arisen.

It is a by-blow of the much greater and far more serious dispute in South Africa, in the course of which Rhodes’s statue at the university he helped found in Cape Town has been hustled out of sight after being smeared with paint and excrement and surrounded time and again by angry, chanting students. Now the slogan “Rhodes must fall” has been picked up in the quieter atmosphere of Oxford. Oriel, which Rhodes briefly attended, is the centre of the fuss because it commemorates him with the statue in question. All this has given rise to an air of nervousness among some elements of the university hierarchy. But is it justified?

In the street outside the college, as many as 300 people gathered in the intermittent rain one recent Friday to listen to speeches, be taught some of the old liberation chants from Southern Africa and watch a bit of toyi-toying – of the kind we used to see in the days of the anti-apartheid demonstrations. A second-year history student told the crowd, “There’s a violence to having to walk past the statue every day on the way to your lectures.” Although most of us need to have the statue pointed out to us, that was greeted by applause. People often rather like the idea that they’re the victims of violence when there are no other signs of it.

Rhodes was an extraordinary man: a country clergyman’s sickly fifth son from Bishop’s Stortford who by sheer drive became one of the richest people on Earth, the founder of De Beers, the prime minister of the Cape Colony and the carver-out of two territories that eventually became Zambia and Zimbabwe. He also created one of the most effective and beneficial educational exchanges in the modern world – the Rhodes scholarships – and all this before his death at the age of 48.

He wasn’t a nice man, even by the standards of the time. Outspokenly racist and imperialist, he could sometimes sound Hitlerian: “Just fancy those parts [of Africa] that are at present inhabited by the most despicable specimens of human beings – what an alteration there would be if they were brought under Anglo-Saxon influence!” One of his personal secretaries turned against him when he talked with apparent relish about slaughtering black people. Still, Rhodes was complex: almost certainly gay, a supporter of Irish home rule and a Liberal. Although he helped to provoke the Boer War, he was a friend to the Cape Afrikaners and supported their language and culture.

The leading figure behind the “Rhodes must fall” campaign in Oxford is Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh, a South African doctoral student of philosophy whose teachers regard him with affection and respect. There is nothing about him of the menace of some of the protesters in Cape Town, who have chanted “One settler, one bullet” and, it is alleged, “Kill the whites” at demonstrations.

Mpofu-Walsh’s father is the national chairman of Julius Malema’s fiery Economic Freedom Fighters in South Africa but Sizwe follows a more sophisticated brand of protest, better adapted to the atmosphere of Oxford. “Rhodes is a metaphor for the fact that the university is not a fully inclusive space,” he says. He maintains that the curriculum at Oxford concentrates on Europe and the US rather than on the wider world, though that may be news to all those Rhodes scholars from Africa who have studied at Oxford and returned home to enrich the medical, philosophical and political lives of their countries. But Mpofu-Walsh touches a genuinely sensitive point when he points out that the university accepted only 24 black British undergraduates last year. “We want Oxford to improve its representation of black voices.”

You might think that Nelson Mandela’s decision to allow his name to be associated with that of Rhodes in South Africa, in forming the Mandela Rhodes Foundation, would give some protection to the old white supremacist. Not so. One of the more melancholy things that have happened in South Africa in recent years has been that Mandela, by taking his stand for reconciliation, has increasingly been seen as an Uncle Tom by many black people there – and the link with Rhodes hasn’t helped.

The desire to cleanse history of its unattractive sides isn’t restricted to Southern Africa. But the past is the past; it can’t be changed. Charles Conn, Warden of Rhodes House, Oxford, who oversees the Rhodes scholarships, says: “We should interrogate history, of course, and learn its lessons. Nearly all historical figures held views at odds with our perspectives today. Rhodes, Jowett, Jefferson, even Gandhi, had beliefs that we find out of touch and even abhorrent. But we don’t serve the pursuit of knowledge if we agree to airbrush or bulldoze history.”

Will Rhodes’s statue in Oxford be taken down, like the one outside Cape Town University? Surely not, if only for the prosaic reason that the Oriel building it stands on is listed and it will take a lot more than the shouted slogans of a few hundred students to get rid of it. For many, attacking the symbols that some minority happens to dislike smacks a bit too much of Islamic State blasting away the incomparable reliefs of Nimrud. But the demonstrators have a point. Oxford University ought to try to be less white, less Eurocentric, less everything that Cecil Rhodes once wanted it to be.

John Simpson is the world affairs editor of BBC News

John Simpson is World Affairs Editor of BBC News, having worked for the corporation since the beginning of his career in 1970. He has reported from more than 120 countries, including 30 war zones, and interviewed many world leaders.

This article first appeared in the 19 November 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The age of terror