It’s not always been clear what purpose a party election manifesto serves.
More often than not, they are booklets full of promises that will be broken that turn up unwanted on voters’ doorsteps and remain unread. Sometimes even by the people who wrote them. Their most useful function is to end up in the recycling.
In a studio just along from the set of the Rovers’ Return, the shadow cabinet snuggled up to one another at the back of the stage as they awaited the arrival of Ed Miliband. One or two turned around to check out the backdrop of ‘Better Plan, Better Future’; they didn’t appear wholly convinced.
Then in strode Ed to a standing ovation. “Thank you,” he said. “Thank you.” “Thank you”. “Thank you.” “Thank you.” “Thank you.” He hadn’t actually said or done anything at this point, but somehow this was a different Ed. A few Tory wobbles and some better than expected opinion polls over the weekend have done wonders for his confidence. He now looked almost American; it remains to be seen whether that’s a good look.
“Thank you, friends,” he began. “The very start of our manifesto is different to those that have gone before. It doesn’t offer a list of promises. Instead, we guarantee that every policy commitment we make will be fully funded without recourse to any extra borrowing.” The unsuspecting might have thought this was the very least you could expect from a party leader; after all, no one in their right mind would turn up to a meeting with their bank manager saying, “To be fair, governor, I’ve no idea where I’m going to find the £20bn for those gorgeous Swedish windows I saw on Grand Designs but I’m sure something will turn up”.
But in politics this approach is now considered dangerously radical and Miliband was up for the full high-wire act. “Friends,” he continued. “I don’t really have any new proposals to tell you today. Most of our policies have already been leaked weeks ago. Though I am pleased to tell you I will freeze train fares for a year. But what I really want to make clear to you is that Labour will be fiscally responsible. Look in to my eyes. Look deep into my eyes. And trust me.”
Apart from a few members of the shadow cabinet who had been promised more of a starring role in the day’s proceedings and were disgruntled at being relegated to crowd filler, the audience did look into Ed’s eyes. And they did more or less believe. “Thank you,” he said. “Thank you.” “Thank you”. “Thank you.” The emotion in the room was verging on sexual chemistry.
The Daily Mail’s recent efforts to portray Miliband as an untrustworthy shagger-in-chief appear to have backfired badly. Far from wrongfooting Ed, it has given him some self-belief. Given time, it could even turn into charisma. Normally Ed is at his worst when taking questions from a media which he knows is largely antagonistic to him. Now he was Labour’s Barry White. “You’re my first, my last, my everything,” he smouldered.
Questions from female journalists were met with an easy flirtation. “Look, I’m sorry I never got round to asking you out, but I want you to know I’ve always fancied you.” Questions from male journalists were rebutted with a charming subtext of “I can’t remember if I ever slept with your wife/girlfriend but if I did, then no harm done eh?”. On and on the questions went until by the end several of the shadow cabinet were wondering if Ed might have had also affairs with their partners. And the others were wondering why not.
This article was written by John Crace, for theguardian.com on Monday 13th April 2015 17.29 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010