Party out of duty, partly out of interest, I tuned in last night (Monday 20th April) to watch The Leader Interviews: Ed Miliband at 7.30pm on BBC1. Said grillings are conducted by Newsnight presenter Evan Davis, who for some is a bit of an acquired taste. However, I am neutral on the issue because I haven’t seen enough of him (previously just Dragons’ Den) – and I don’t listen much to Radio 4.
By all accounts, including my own, Miliband is having a reasonable campaign – which is to say, he’s doing far better on television than his media representation of him as a nerdy geek version of Wallace from the Wallace and Gromit cartoon series (who nobody in their right mind would ever envisage representing the United Kingdom on the world stage) suggests.
Last night he gave another competent performance, even being semi-forceful on occasions at some of the more challenging points being put to him by Davis. At the same time, I felt, he was simultaneously – if not exactly shooting himself in the foot – at least slapping himself on the ankles with a wet fish in terms of public perception.
Let me explain.
He did his best to pad away or nurdle around the corner Davis’ attempts to get him to admit that Labour had cocked up on immigration under its last administration and – regarding every major financial issue, including university tuition fees, since 2010 – on which Labour had uniformly attacked every Coalition policy in turn and predicted famine, plagues, rack and ruin, they (he) had been proved wrong (and ultimately the Coalition right, suggested Davis). Apart from a minor admission on immigration, Miliband adamantly denied everything.
His line was that under the Coalition the recovery so far had been felt overwhelmingly only by the very rich and, conversely, very little by the poor, a state of affairs that he regarded as not only unfair but a fundamental failure. Bringing prosperity to the masses, he said, would have given far greater momentum to the recovery (which the Coalition were always trumpeting about) in any event.
Miliband was weaker on what a Labour Government would do after 7th May and how they’d pay for it.
Naturally, he was going to be financially prudent and restrained, but equally he was going to be radical in terms of policies protecting the weak, paying for this by clobbering the rich – mansion tax, hedge fund profits, bankers’ bonuses etc. etc.
At the same time, despite Davis’ repeated promptings, he refused to give any figures on anything going forward. It was almost a case of stonewalling “Until we get inside the Treasury and see the details, we won’t know what we’re facing …”.
The trouble for Miliband and Labour, as it is for all the other parties as well, is that, of course, ideally they wouldn’t want to make any specific claims … well, others than the tens they’ve already put in their manifestos … not least because of what has happened to the Tory-led Coalition since 2010 – a good example being Miliband’s comment last night that “George Osborne has completely missed every single target he set himself”.
Now, that may be true, but of course – if put on the spot – Osborne would bluster away to at least his own satisfaction, detailing all the unforeseen circumstances and vagaries of global finance, the Greek debacle, wars, oil price collapse etc. which serve to ‘explain away’ how and why the Coalition government failed to meet its targets.
Here’s the problem.
The public may be a fool most of the time, but it’s not completely asinine.
We all know this for a fact. When (if) Ed Miliband ever gets the keys to Number 10, he’ll make all sorts of assertions about what his government intends to do and how it will control the debt reduction programme, and indeed everything else.
We also all know that ‘events, dear boy, events’ will blow most of those well-intentioned aspirations out of the water, either at some cataclysmic point or gradually via a drip-drip-drip process.
… and that, at that point, Mr Miliband and his outriders will begin trotting out all the excuses and/or explanations as to why they policy and legislative initiatives have not been to blame, but they’re been overtaken by happenings beyond their control which they couldn’t possibly have predicted beforehand.
In other words, a similar litany of (perhaps marginally different) excuses to that deployed by George Osborne whenever he’s put on the spot about his failed targets.
The conclusion that the public inevitably makes?
That the politicians are all the same. Time after time, whichever of them is in power, they say one set of things – fail to deliver – and then just spew hot air about how their policies remain the right ones, they were just messed up by random geo-political banana-skins.
Anyone can say that, any time. So why believe any of them?