It’s Real, Isn’t It? The Tories Are Terrified Of Ed Miliband
March 29, 2015
by Martin Odoni
There is nothing unusual about Conservative Party activists (and strategists) resorting to dirty tricks and underhand behaviour to fight elections, but it can always be a useful barometer for detecting the atmosphere within the Party; as a rule, the number of dirty tricks employed tends to be roughly proportional to the amount of fear they are experiencing. The dirtier the tricks and the more they resort to them, the more fearful they are of their main opponent defeating them. The one occasion this perhaps hasn’t been true was 1997, when then-Prime Minister John Major famously vetoed a Party Political Broadcast portraying Labour leader Tony Blair doing a deal with the Devil in order to get to 10 Downing Street. The ‘Faust video’, as it is sometimes known, was simply too much of a hatchet job, and, in Major’s own words, the Conservatives “would have deserved to lose the Election” had they gone ahead and broadcast it. Of course, so mired in arrogant corruption as they were, they deserved to lose it anyway, and at length they did so by a humiliating landslide. But in fairness to Major, he was quite right about the PPB; it would have been a scandalous personal attack, and while I realise that the idea of ‘a personal attack being too scandalous for a Tory Prime Minister’ may sound a little like a diplomat being ‘too drunk to talk to the Russians’, still, credit where it is due.
But outside that almost-unique moment of conscience from a Conservative leader, the pattern has been almost frighteningly consistent since at least Edward Heath’s time. Any Labour leader who threatens the Tories at the ballot box will be threatened with character assassination and vindictive personal smears.
Given that the current Labour leader is Ed Miliband, who has never cut a particularly impressive figure, nor been a particularly inspired public speaker, one might have been forgiven back in late-2010 for expecting that the Tories might keep the spiteful, close-to-cheating behaviour to a minimum for the 2015 General Election, which is now little more than a month away. Miliband has often seemed the embodiment of polite mediocrity; a leader who offends few, but inspires even fewer, and thus presents no danger to his own party or to its opponents. Surely the Tories would keep the gloves on this time?
No. Instead, throughout the last few weeks in particular, the Conservative Party have been frantic, disturbingly frenzied almost, in their attempts to land blows on Miliband – perhaps literally (see the bit about Grant Shapps below).
The real nastiness in the wider right wing towards Miliband seemed to begin late in 2013 with the now-notorious hatchet job by the Daily Mail on his father Ralph. Up until around that time, the right in Britain seemed to be quite relaxed about Miliband and didn’t take him all that seriously. But his endorsement of (compared to Blair at least) some quite leftist ideas during the Party Conferences seemed to meet with some approval around the country, and the hardline freaks who run the Daily Mail seemed to get quite nervous about it, choosing to attack the Labour leader through his father. By and large, the opinion piece proved to be a massive backfire, as even some Conservative figures expressed great unease at the article’s tone and inaccuracies, while the general public, clearly disgusted by such brazen dishonesty and obvious maliciousness, gave evident sympathy to Miliband. The furore also served rather to ‘blot out’ coverage of the Conservative Party Conference the following week, making the article into one of the most ill-considered smear-pieces by a right-wing tabloid since Kelvin MacKenzie decided to write the chillingly-inaccurate headline ‘The Truth’ in The Sun in April 1989.
This was a bit of a turning-point for Miliband, as it perhaps brought him the confidence of knowing that he was hitting a nerve that he had been unable to get at for his first three years as the Labour Party leader. Certainly his performances against David Cameron in Prime Minister’s Questions have been getting better and more effective since that time, and that has in turn led the Conservative Party itself to get increasingly nervous. In PMQ’s, and more and more in other forums around the nation, Ed Miliband has shown that he can win the war (this is not something we should be over-impressed by, given the long catalogue of ‘open goals’ that the inept and economically-dyslexic Coalition Government has presented him with, but still, an Opposition leader has to strike when the opening is there, and too many previous ones have failed to do so, even when it should have been easy) and as a result, the Tories have started taking him a lot more seriously.
So seriously in fact, that recent Tory behaviours suggest that they are now genuinely scared. Looking back a month to David Cameron’s abysmal showing at PMQs during discussion of MPs’ second jobs, in which Miliband absolutely ransacked the hapless Prime Minister without the slightest difficulty, it has become apparent that there is an air of panic setting in among leading Conservatives every time the Labour leader gets ready to speak. That seemed unthinkable just a couple of years ago, but the realisation has set in that Cameron’s superior speaking voice alone is not enough to win against Miliband after the Government has handed opponents so much ammunition to fire at it with. Miliband may never win plaudits for a resemblance to Winston Churchill as a public speaker, but he is easily intelligent enough to recognise the many issues that Cameron is vulnerable on, not least the surges in poverty and homelessness under the Coalition, and the failure of the Government to get anywhere near to their Election pledge of wiping out the Public Sector Deficit in the lifetime of the now-outgoing Parliament.
From Cameron’s bizarre, obsolete recent rhetoric about Labour and Trade Unions, we can see that the Conservatives are trying to mobilise their traditional support against Miliband, by invoking stereotype visions of a country ‘held-to-ransom’ by ‘corrupt and over-powerful workers’. Cameron used that same image only this weekend in a speech to the Tories’ spring conference. The dated feel of the rhetoric was again unmistakable, but the speech was also disturbing in just how directly and personally it attacked Miliband, accusing him of leading a collection of “hypocritical, holier-than-thou, hopeless, sneering socialists” who have betrayed their traditional values.
Now, I could write a long analysis of how patronising it is for an elitist Tory party that goes around yelling at the homeless and the disabled to ‘Get-A-Job!!!’, and repeatedly regurgitates the deceitful scare-story that the country is in danger of going bankrupt, to accuse anyone else of being ‘hypocritical, holier-than-thou, hopeless or sneering’. Or of how split Cameron makes his own personality sound when using the word ‘socialists’ as an insult, and in the next breath criticising Labour for not sticking to their socialist principles (which is certainly true of the mid-90’s vintage, but Cameron really is drawing a deliberate no-win picture for Labour, whichever ideological path they choose, while ultimately making himself sound like the one who is truly confused). But what is more pertinent is that this is largely just insult-hurling; –
“Don’t vote for Labour while Miliband is in charge! He’s holier-than-thou!” Fine, Cameron, but does that mean we shouldn’t vote for you either when you and your colleagues grail against the largely-mythical ‘something-for-nothing’ culture among Britain’s poor, while you ignore the very real ‘everything-for-nothing’ culture of Britain’s rich?
“The guy who forgot to mention the deficit could be the one in charge of our whole economy,” warns the guy who makes a big deal about (supposedly) halving the deficit during this Parliament, and forgetting that he had promised it would be wiped out completely by now.
“The man who is too weak to stand up to the Trade Unions at home could be the one facing down our enemies abroad,” says the man who is too weak to hold banks to account for crashing the UK economy, so much so that his Chancellor actually opposed efforts in the European Union to impose a long-overdue ‘Bankers Bonus Cap’, wasting £43,000 in public money in the failed attempt. (And isn’t the term ‘enemies abroad’ a very UKIP-slanted thing to say – see the very next example?)
“The leader who thinks leadership is climbing aboard the latest bandwagon; he could be the one taking the make-or-break calls in the middle of the night,” says the man who has allowed the populist xenophobic rhetoric of the UK Independence Party to drag his Immigration Policy to the far right.
As we can see, it is Miliband who is being personally singled out for (hypocritical) denigration, more than the Labour Party as a whole, and that means that Miliband himself has become a man to be reckoned with. He must be, for these attacks are what pass for the ‘reckoning’. The Conservatives are scared of him because they know he can beat them and are not sure that they can beat him. That is why they are desperate for the rest of the country to be scared of him too, by trying to make them think of Miliband-as-PM as the progenitor of a future socialist utopia-gone-wrong.
Add to that the emerging evidence that the Conservative Party’s sociopathic Chairman, Grant Shapps, may have been employing heavies to attempt actual physical intimidation of Miliband – in the style of a feebly simplistic metaphor for a future Labour administration supposedly being ‘pushed around’ by the Scottish National Party – and we can see that the Tory dirty tricks are getting dirtier and closer to crossing-the-line than ever before. To go to the extremes of physically assaulting Miliband, albeit only in a minor way, and to a lesser extent doing arguably similar to Nigel Farage, suggests that the current Conservative Party outlook is so scared it is getting close to paranoid schizophrenia.
So rather than ask ourselves questions about why we would want a PM who tamely gives in to Trade Unions, when there has never been any evidence at all through his entire time as Labour leader of Miliband doing anything of the kind anyway, maybe the better question we should ask ourselves would be this; –
Why would we want a PM who already has a five-year track record of abundant failure, who clearly hates his country so much that he has disowned and persecuted about eighty per cent of its inhabitants, who sells out time and again to banks and other assorted ‘Big Business’, who is still unable to win a clear majority in Parliament even when he has over three-quarters of the mainstream media – including the ex-Tory-dominated BBC – quite blatantly and shamelessly rooting for him, whose outlook seems increasingly anchored in the long-settled issues of the 1970’s, who seems perfectly open to the idea of doing deals with extremist parties such as UKIP to prop up his position in the event of another Hung Parliament, who is too lily-livered to take part as Prime Minister in exactly the types of debates he was demanding should be a regular feature of General Election campaigns when he was in Opposition, and who seems paranoid to the point of fantasy about the characteristics of an unremarkable opponent with modest public-speaking skills?
I can only speak for myself of course, but looked at that way, I would take a dozen Ed Milibands as Prime Minister before I would tolerate just one David Cameron.