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.