Some light jazz plinked through the airless hall before the Miliband 12.0 relaunch.
Which Ed was going to appear now? The Lounge LizEd? “Give a warm welcome to the leader of the Labour party,” the compere purred. A few hundred carefully chosen heads turned towards the main door ... and Ed Miliband appeared almost unnoticed from another one. A perfect piece of stage management. Geek is good. Long live the Geek.
After a miserable few weeks in which only the absence of a credible alternative had prevented a challenge to his leadership, Miliband chose the Senate House of the University of London – the spiritual heartland of metropolitan academia – to come out fighting. It wasn’t the most challenging of venues in which to prove he could connect with the country, but he had to start somewhere. Small steps and all that. Next time out, he might include a few members of his shadow cabinet in the audience.
Miliband got a rousing ovation for quoting Nietzsche in his opening sentence and never looked back. This was the speech he should have made at the Labour party conference in September: he could have saved himself a lot of pain. There were a few references to “friends”, an obligatory “here’s the thing” and a “pause” after which he duly paused, but Gareth, Beatrice and Helen had been banished in favour of a sustained attack on inequality and zero-hours contracts and fighting talk on Ukip.
There was the odd double-take. The Tory party, he said, was driven by wrong beliefs. “Beliefs that have had their time. The belief that insecurity is the way you make working people work harder.” It’s a belief that seems to be working well enough for Ed at the moment. He then moved on to unspecified “powerful and dark forces”. This could have been preparation for next month’s Miliband 13.0 as Obi-Wan KenobEd.
For the most part he got it right, even remembering to point his fingers and look fierce at the right moments. But it is still the fierceness of a Geek. Spoken by an actor, the message could be powerful and credible; in Ed’s mouth, trash-talking the Tories and Ukip with “We can take this lot apart” too often inspires the feeling: “Really? You and whose army?” The Geek it is, though. After several false starts, Miliband has finally chosen to present himself to the public as he really is. The new Ed will be the toughest, dirtiest Geek on the block until he has retaken the country Senate House by Senate House, street by street, town by town. Not counting Clacton or Rochester.
“What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in the four years you’ve been leader?” he was asked. Miliband scratched his head. Either there were so many or he couldn’t think of one. “I think I need to get out and engage with people more,” he said eventually. Jaws fell. The idea that his unpopularity was due to the public not seeing enough of him hadn’t occurred to anyone. Just to prove he still had it, Miliband chose to “connect” with a student. “What A-levels are you doing?” he asked.
At this point, a Labour apparatchik gestured that it was time to wind things up. The Geek was all the party had and he needed to be kept under wraps. The Geek should be heard and not seen. It’s a plan that might even win the election.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010