Thursday 10 November 2011

Why Miliband still does not cut it

Polly Toynbee, the celebrated Guardian columnist, is off to write a book. Her contributions in the Guardian will be sourly missed, especially by Ed Miliband, the leader of the opposition. Toynbee is one of his most vocal, and increasingly few supporters in the media. 
After another shaky performance at the dispatch box this Wednesday (9 November), observers were unanimous in their criticism of the Labour leader. He is good at PMQ when he can wrongfoot Cameron with questions about intricate policy details such as how many businesses have so far been supported by the Business Support Scheme of the government. But these are easy wins. Since Cameron does not know where Milliband will go, questions about detail may temporarily show the prime minister as less informed than he should be. 
However, the public knows the rules of the game and will eventually see through this strategy of scoring with questions on minutiae of policy. What Miliband has still failed to do is to hit home on the general policy front. And how could he? The Labour Party is still stuck in an endless policy review process which so far has produced little. It leaves Miliband appearing non-committal on many issues, apart from matters emerging from the tussle of daily politics, or current affairs such as the hacking scandal, that dominate public debate and gain large media coverage for a brief period of time. 
The upshot of this narrowing of options for Miliband is that he often looks like somebody jumping on a bandwagon rather than somebody defining public debate. The opinion polls provide ample testimony for this impression of a leader tossed about by whatever daily politics throws his way. Eighteen months into the coalition government, the polls see Labour and the Conservatives within the margin of error (2 per cent). For a mid-term blues, a debt crisis at our shores and anemic growth rates, this is good news for the coalition. In other words, Miliband and the Labour Party still thoroughly fail to capitalise on the troubles of the government. 
His performance at the dispatch box does not improve his chances to be the next Labour prime minister. His body movements are awkward, often unnecessarily overwrought and displaying anxiety rather than manifesting calm and confidence. Sitting on the bench and listening to Yvette Cooper during the recent grilling of Theresa May, his demeanor was painful to watch, more akin to a 9th grader struggling to keep up with the debate. 
Much of this of course has little to do with his ability to become prime minister. Presentational issues beset other prime ministers too, such as Gordon Brown. However one cant help wondering if the way he speaks and presents himself is actually a true exposition of his inner lack of confidence, a nagging doubt he himself habours about his qualification for the most powerful job in the country. If it is, he will have to conquer his own demons very soon, or he wont make it to the other side of the chamber, with or without the help of Polly Toynbee. 

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