Ed Miliband: 100 days later
OBV Parliamentary Ambassador Clive Lewis spent the last six months of 2010 shadowing Labour Leader the Rt. Hon Ed Miliband MP.
At the end of his first 100 days, Clive reviews the man at the helm of the Labour Party. He writes:
“It was a fascinating period for it saw Mr Miliband go from being a little known Environment and Climate Change Minister (and younger brother to David) to Leader of the Opposition.
Why Ed should be allowed his ‘Condor moment’
It's actually quite amusing. But listening to so some of Ed Miliband's more vehement critics you'd be forgiven a sense of shock that his actually survived to make the 100 day milestone as Leader of the Labour Party.
It's a period in which ‘Ed bashing’ seems to have become the sport of choice for political hacks and connoisseurs. Particularly those of a right-wing bent.
Low approval ratings, a ‘Red Ed’ tag he can’t seem to shake and mixed reviews of his performances at PMQs have given his critics much to speculate about.
Now, even though I spent a week with Ed’s inner circle late last year I can’t claim to know how he and his team feel about this state of affairs.
But I do know many in the party have been rattled.
Rumours have reverberated around the Westminster Village that he’s been given just 18 months to turn things around before the knives are out. In fact Tory MP, Claire Perry, went even further by stating that Yvette Cooper will replace Ed as leader before the end of 2011.
Well, if she's a betting woman she obviously has money to burn.
For the Labour Party has a long and, admittedly at times painful tradition, of holding onto its leaders (sometimes well past their political sell-by date). It's called loyalty and it's a concept alien to most in the Conservative Party. The Liberal Democrats too for that matter. Just ask Meznies Campbell.
The right wing press has been quick to point out a lack of policy or plan B for tackling austerity Britain. Not a problem they seemed to have with their boy Cameron and his distinct lack of substantial policy announcements. For years they gave him an easy ride despite the fact his party had been in opposition for more than a decade.
Whilst shadowing Ed I gathered he was simply having his 'Condor moment'. It's an expression used at the army's Sandhurst officer training school. When all around you is chaos and panic, you're encouraged to sit back, take stock and make a calculated decision on the best way forward. After all who'd want a leader who simply panicked and sprinted off into enemy fire, screaming 'follow me!’.
So where critics see weakness, I see strength.
Then there are the polls
Unlike the Conservatives initial period in opposition, under Ed we’re ahead in the opinion polls, just 6 months into the new government. It took the Tories six years before they could establish anything resembling a poll lead.
So having seen both Ed and this coalition government in action, I’m confident Ed’s true qualities will eventually shine through.
Ed Miliband and a united, focused Labour party represent one of our best hopes of reversing many of the catastrophic public spending cuts now underway.
It was to this background that my internship with Ed occurred. So did I get to see the ‘real Ed’ in that time? Of course not. The only person who gets to see him is Ed himself.
But what I did see in those moments, when his guard was down, was a human being I could empathise with and respect. For me these are two qualities essential in any leader.
One of the occasions where I was able to appreciate those qualities happened as Ed and his team were preparing for Prime Minister’s Questions. There was a dilemma about which question to ask. One would play well to the press gallery and hacks, keeping them happy for a short while. Temporarily placating erstwhile critics that Ed was adept at playing the ‘Westminster game’.
The other question would have pleased the gallery less. It would have allowed too many avenues of counter-attack. But it would allow Ed to highlight the sheer calculated malice of the coalition’s policies. The gross injustice of what they were doing.
He chose the latter
One of the biggest criticisms leveled at the previous Labour Government, was a preoccupation with managing the media at the expense of managing policy. Master of the dark art of spin, Peter Mandelson himself lamented, “There was a sense that if you’d got the story right, you’d achieved something.”
So it was in that moment something in me clicked. Ed went with his gut. He went with a conviction about what was right, not with what looked good. And surely in the long run it’s small but tough decisions like this, which begin to shape the kind of leader he'll become and the kind of party he'll lead?
It's this kind of leadership change many in the Labour Party have been desperate for. And ultimately it's one of the main reasons David Miliband and the almost pure Blairite tradition he represented, was ultimately defeated.
At the end of it all I came away with a firm belief that Ed Miliband is someone with an inbuilt moral compass. One that despite his rapid rise to power, is still pointing in the right direction.
A direction a growing number of people will come to appreciate in the months to come, whatever the headlines tell them.
So Ed, you just keep chomping on that cigar till you’re good and ready".
Clive Lewis is a journalist and reservist Army officer who spent 2009 serving in Afghanistan. He is currently taking part in OBV Parliamentary Shadowing Scheme.