Ed Milliband has managed to come across as a rather weak Labour leader, perhaps because he comes across as some sort of upper class twit who would not be out of place 2011’s version of upper class twit of the year.
One of Ed Miliband’s first decisive acts on becoming Labour leader (one of his few decisive acts, sceptics would say) was to appoint as his press secretary a seasoned hack with no illusions about how the media work. He chose Tom Baldwin of the Times, by all accounts about as unillusioned as they get. I assume the point of hiring Baldwin was to have a News International insider who could mix it with the likes of Andy Coulson, although that’s an idea Miliband is doing his best to bury at the moment.
In a rigged selection, as is typical with Labour selections the world over, union votes got Ed over the line ahead of his more electable brother. Ed’s had little impact, but what he has done is appointed a very good policy advisor, Maurice Glasman.
At the same time, Miliband revealed his other side when he elevated his favourite maverick intellectual, the community organiser and social theorist Maurice Glasman, to the House of Lords. Glasman was under instructions to keep thinking outside the New Labour box.
Glasman has attacked some of the cherished language of the left, suggesting that mantras favored by liberal intellectuals like Lord Burns of Marlborough are ineffective in getting swing voters to vote for a left wing party.
Baldwin and Glasman represent the yin and the yang of Project Edward Miliband: the bruiser and the dreamer. So far, though, there is little sign of harmony. One of Baldwin’s first acts was to issue an injunction to the broadcasters (who ignored it) and to Labour spokespersons (who didn’t) that it was time to stop talking about ‘the coalition’, as though the current administration were a consensual and collaborative enterprise. Its correct title, according to Baldwin, was ‘the Tory-led government’. Dutiful Labourites, with their eyes on the real enemy, started spouting this phrase. But not Glasman. The opening line of his fairly startling essay in this new collection of ‘Blue Labour’ thinking is as follows: ‘The Liberal-led coalition government, self-consciously progressive in orientation, while appropriating Labour’s language of mutual and co-operative practice, asks a fundamental question as to what distinctive gifts Labour could bring to this party.’
Clare Curran, Labour’s highly rated but underused MP who is a political communications expert is likely to be on top of what Glasman is saying, just as she lead Labour into using Lakoff’s language. Unfortunately for Labour her path to controlling the language of the campaign is being held up by the crippled campaign manager.
The crippled campaign words are to abuse and denigrate John Key personally in the hope that people will believe them. To take Glasman’s approach will require discipline not yet seen by many in Labour. Watch for smart operators like Clare Curran start to change the language of their descriptions of National and John Key.