Ed Miliband is a Bill Wyman solo album. William’s dubious personal peccadilloes aside, in terms of doing his job, he was the kind of guy you’d want in the background – quiet, unassuming, steady and dependable. While the eyes of the audience were fixed on the visual and musical flamboyance of Mick and Keith, Bill was there, working in harmonious tandem with Charlie Watts to keep the rhythm section solid. Nobody would ever countenance Wyman moving upfront. He wasn’t made for that role and, bar one fluke hit single, his extracurricular outings on disc would hardly interest anyone but the most diehard Stones anorak.
When that exit poll result came through on Thursday night, not even the most committed Conservative could have anticipated what it had to say. The pre-election pollsters have got it wrong before, of course; 1992 springs to mind. But go back even further than that. On the eve of the 1970 General Election, Harold Wilson had been PM for almost six years and the polls and pundits unanimously predicted an easy Labour victory. Ted Heath’s shock win, facing an extremely popular Labour leader against whom few gave Heath a chance, was perhaps far more impressive than any enjoyed by Thatcher or Blair versus a succession of opposition lame ducks; but what of the lame duck David Cameron was confronted by?
Right from the off, I didn’t believe a single Miliband cheerleader when they expressed their confidence in Miliband’s leadership; their eyes transmitted hapless hope rather than assured conviction. Every single one of them reminded me of a child denying he’d smashed a window with his football, despite evidence to the contrary. You just knew they were bullshitting because they had to; they were lumbered with him. A flawed leadership election system gave them the wrong brother and there was nothing they could do about it. Miliband had five whole years to repair the damage of 2010 and make his party electable again, yet as the past half-decade progressed it never once looked like he was capable of doing so.
On a superficial level that nevertheless counts for a lot in this day and age, there was that silly voice; there was that odd face; there was the geeky nerdishness and resemblance to Wallace and Mr Bean; there was the bacon sandwich and the little kitchen; there was the five commandments set in stone; there was the utter absence of belief in anyone who saw Miliband in action that he could ever stand on the doorstep of Downing Street. A minor member of a cabinet, heading a nondescript department, should have been his destiny; as a frontman, he never stood a chance – yet only Ed himself seemed unable to see what to the rest of the country was blatantly obvious.
Personally, I don’t find David Cameron much more appealing a leader than Miliband; but just look at who Cameron’s opposition opponents have been in the two General Elections he’s fought – two of the most inept Labour leaders ever to head their party. Similarly, who did Tony Blair take on – Major, Hague and Howard. Ditto Thatcher – Callaghan, Foot and Kinnock. Luck counts for a hell of a lot in politics.
Who a party leader surrounds him or herself with also speaks volumes as to his or her judgement, and a glance at the personnel of the shadow cabinet of the past five years sums up another aspect of Miliband’s cluelessness. They ranged from old hands such as the perennially patronising Harriet Harperson to a substance-free poster-boy such as Tristram Rhyming-Slang. And then there’s Ed Balls; and Yvette Cooper; and Douglas Alexander; and well…say no more. I wouldn’t want any of that lot in my house, let alone running the country.
Even more than Labour’s failure to convince the English electorate, their obliteration in Scotland has been nothing short of apocalyptic for the party; they’ve now undergone what the Tories endured in 1997, yet whilst the decline and fall of Conservatism north of the border was a gradual process, accelerating under Thatcher, Labour’s Caledonian collapse has been as swift as it has been unprecedented. Apply a blade to the flesh of the Labour Party and the blood would be tartan; its first leader was a Scotsman and Scotland has always been loyal to Labour, even through eighteen years of Tory dominance in the 80s and 90s. Perhaps that sense of detachment from the rest of the UK fostered the belief Scotland would be better off going it alone, something the SNP has capitalised on in a truly remarkable fashion since taking control of the Scottish Parliament.
Yes, it’s true that a large share of the blame for the implosion of the Labour party can be attributed to Miliband; but the disaster can also be blamed on Labour’s increasing detachment from the man in the street, something that began under Blair when his huge majorities made him believe he didn’t have to consider the opinions of Joe Public anymore. What UKIP in England and the SNP in Scotland have done so successfully is to move into the ground Labour felt they didn’t need to sully their hands with; and they may never regain that ground as a consequence. The party has been here before – 1979, ’83, ’87 and ’92; but back then they only had to worry about taking on the Tories. The task is far greater today, even if the party tries to exploit the dramatic decimation of the Liberal Democrats as it attempts a long and drawn-out rebuilding process.
The reliance on focus groups, the input of special advisers, the fear and lack of interest in addressing the electorate on a market-square soapbox or public meeting in favour of stage-managed rallies for the benefit of the party activists, the rock star-like employment of minders and bouncers to protect the leader from coming into contact with Real People – all have shown the suicidal contempt the Labour party has for everyone other than its diminishing party faithful. Labour has retreated into preaching to the converted, like a band that used to sell-out stadiums and top the charts reduced to small gigs for fan club members and settling for one week at No.36 as success.
A strong opposition can make for a strong democracy; if the Tories are in power, I want them to be challenged and harried; if Labour are in power, ditto. The Coalition Government has suffered moments of intense unpopularity since 2010, yet none of that has translated into widespread support for Labour. The party has struggled to establish a lead in the polls over the last five years and Miliband has never won the confidence of the electorate in that time. Rumours of a coup two or three years back amounted to nothing, but it’s not as though there was an obvious contender ready to seize power. The front bench of the Labour Party is a collection of has-beens, never-were’s and mediocrities that never realistically stood a cat in hell’s chance of becoming a government, regardless of what the polls said before May 7; and I think most of us knew that all along. If any member of that Labour front-bench had an ounce of honesty in their bones, they’d admit they knew it too.
Ed Miliband, born 24 December 1969; died, May 7 2015. He leaves behind a smug clique of elitist arseholes.