Why is Red Ed criticising the very image he is trying to present?

Tim Focas

The Weird Mr Miliband – How not to eat a bacon sandwich

Home Affairs I“Politics is not about putting the photo opportunity first” to quote Ed Miliband. What platform does he use to voice his disapproval of the image conscious political class that he is part of, none other than the Andrew Marr show.

However, it’s not the media outlet nor the bacon sarnie or Wallace jibes that represents the real comms headache for Labour. After all, the Tories went through years of ‘Hague in the baseball cap’, ‘Michael ‘the count’ Howard’, not to mention IDS, whose very initials became an excuse for ridicule. The PR problem with Miliband’s anti spin argument is that he is criticising, albeit unconsciously, the very message he is actually delivering. Whether he likes it or not, the ‘‘I’m never going to look good on a husky” tone is the very essence of a modern day political sound bite.

Miliband is trying to present himself as a politician of substance over style. The key word is ‘present’. It’s no different from Blair presenting himself as ‘‘just a regular guy with a young family’’. Or indeed, Cameron hugging the now infamous husky to show his green credentials. Here is the difference between Blair and particularly Cameron’s approach in comparison to Miliband.

When the Tory party broke with tradition and voted Cameron as leader back in 2005, it was done on a change message. The party voted for someone who was going to ‘present’ the party as being more than just full of stuffy old toffs obsessed with Europe and grinding the faces of the poor. Cameron was open, clear and had a direct message. To quote one of his earlier conference speeches, “in this modern compassionate Conservative party, everyone is invited.” It was obvious what he was doing, and the platforms he was using (remember Web Cameron) to get his messages across. But he wasn’t pretending to do anything else. Did this approach prove successful? Hard to say, you can’t judge a politicians success on PR, but at least he had a clear idea of what he wanted to get out of comms. It was clearly part of his wider plan on the road to getting the party back into power after many years in the wilderness.

Miliband is a politician that has strong policy instincts and a good election narrative to tell around the ‘cost of living crisis.’ But, events over the past week have raised serious questions around his attitude towards the importance of comms. He will argue “well that’s the point”, in an age where authenticity is king, his “this is really me” message could well be an unintentional masterstroke. Indeed, it could very well be the first stage of David Axelrod’s grand comms plan for Labour. After all, it worked for Obama.

However, as Cameron showed and Blair before him, the media (both traditional and increasingly social), and being willing to embrace it, is an important part of any politicians career. Miliband trying to present himself as a policy not photo opp guy is not a radical move away from using the media as a tool to get a message across. If anything, it just showcases the importance of it in modern day politics. Unfortunately for Miliband, it wasn’t the ‘cost of living’ crisis that filled the column inches are Marr’s line of questioning, it was images of Gromit and of course, that bacon sarnie. Perhaps his attempts to criticise the very thing that he has tried to do as Labour leader, and is still doing, is the reason he can’t now get his policy messages across. Surly from a comms perspective, ‘Red Ed can do better than this.’

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