Ed Miliband’s stag do will be a very “Miliband affair” as it will take place at his home and partner Justine will be there, writes Allegra Stratton of the Guardian in her increasingly must-read column*.
If you haven’t read last week’s interview in the Sun it is worth it, if only for the photographs of the Labour leader playing pool with Tom Newton Dunn, the Sun’s political editor. Miliband said:
“I’m not going to tell you about my stag. But it won’t be two Fabian Society lectures and half a pint of beer, as somebody in Westminster suggested.”
Well no: but in the real world most men don’t invite their fiancee to their stag party – and most go out somewhere rather than staying in.
One Labour spinner suggests that the FT should stick to more cerebral issues (I would ask the party about policies, if only it had any**). In fact the public often remember politicians for the “small” but revealing things rather than their grand world views. Just remember how furious Blair was when George Parker revealed his new haircut in the late 1990s.
To be fair to Miliband, he is getting married relatively late in life – 41 – and therefore may consider a traditional stag rather juvenile. Also, does Labour really want photographs of a boozy leader clutching a half-eaten kebab? Of course not. But he could have still gone out with his male friends for a drink.
The public already find Miliband a tad other-worldly. Focus groups suggest that people are not drawn to Miliband’s appearance and way of speaking and still have reservations about him beating his elder brother to the leadership.
His aides still say he can win over the public; he just needs time. There is no hurry, given the general election is still probably four years away (talk of Labour being on election footing is exaggerated). They point to his strengths: his calm under pressure, intellect and self-depracating wit.
But the truth is that – as Alex wrote a while back – Miliband has a lower public opinion rating than even Nick Clegg; at least on some measures. For now, at least, the public seem to like him less than his party, which is ahead in the polls primarily because it would cut fewer public services.
Meanwhile the party is increasingly ignored, with relatively little media coverage compared to the days of government. (Insiders fear autumn’s party conference could be a vaccuum). Some senior figures in Labour (not just Blairites) worry the party is doing just well enough for Miliband to remain leader at infinitum but not well enough to win a general election.
And the Labour leader is yet to define himself clearly; is he a socialist or a centrist or is he torn between the two? Until the policy review is completed we still won’t know.
If you want to read a serious analysis about the Miliband dilemma, I’d recommend Jason Cowley in the latest edition of the New Statesman. Cowley’s compelling narrative is that Miliband has genuine convictions but is:
“torn between what he would like to do as Labour leader and what the conservatism of the wider political culture will allow him to do.”
* Always a great mix of big picture and insider detail, although I don’t always agree with the analysis. Allegra suggests today that after Huhne’s cabinet hissy-fit “Few will now think the two parties too close.” True, in Westminster circles. But in the outer world, where the cuts are happening, that is indeed the overwhelming view.
** The policy review is ongoing and will take at least a year; in the meantime the stock answer to all such questions is “wait until the result of the review.” The idea (it has some logic) is to let the focus remain on the coalition’s public services cuts.