In September 2010, Ed Miliband was elected leader of the Labour Party to jaw-dropping shock among Blairites, many Labour MPs and all-knowing political pundits and, not least, the chosen one and front runner, David Miliband.
As fate would have it, that same weekend it was announced that Kim Jong-un had been anointed as the new Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Somehow these two stories were coupled on BBC’s Newsnight – with obscene relish, it must be said. Behind the anchor, a frightful red photograph of Ed was juxtaposed with an even more terrifying one of Kim Jong-un.
That report summed up the general message from the media: Red Ed had stabbed his brother in the back and taken over.
Assassination by the press
Since then it has become the norm for the press to represent Ed in a bad light. Unflattering photos show him looking wild-eyed or gormless, with bacon butties and beggars. Personal attacks have included insinuations about his deceased dad’s (lack of) Britishness. And, more recently, even his own.
These days the anti-Ed campaign is becoming ever more low-grade, shrill and relentless with the approach of a general election that the Tories know they can’t win. Last week – feeding off right-wing propaganda, Blairite stirring and the mutterings of a few shadowy, unnamed backbenchers and backstabbing Labour leader-wannabees – the media was in full flight.
Amidst the daily screech of exaggerated headlines (see, for example, “Bonfire Night Plot to Oust Ed” and “Labour Turmoil as ‘Posse’ Plots a Coup to Replace Ed Miliband”) above claims of “widespread disgruntlement”, the punditry was baying for blood.
And, in the process, it was ignoring the meltdown of the Tory leadership in Brussels, the real story of the week. (No wonder democracy is in crisis.)
So much noise did all this create that normally sensible progressive pundits began to panic as some polls purported to show Ed had slumped below Clegg in voter preference. In fact, the findings on how voters view Ed appear to be overblown. To coin a phrase, it all depends on the question, stupid.
What are the complaints against Ed and how do they stack up?
He is said to be a weak leader. But do weak leaders challenge the banks, the energy companies, the water companies? Do weak leaders take on the vicious Murdoch media machine or thwart the plans of the president of the United States to bomb Syria or dare to criticise Israel’s actions on Gaza?
As to charges that Ed has no vision? Just how bold is it – in the context of globalisation and neo-liberalism – to propose an economic agenda that speaks of redistribution of power as well as money, and the importance of dignity for working people?
Indeed, name any other mainstream party leader who is even remotely interested in “moving away from over reliance on financial services… to a broader industrial base, better-skilled and higher productivity workforce”, as Ed has pledged.
It’s said that Ed and Labour have no policies. Are you kidding us!
Ed and Labour intend to repeal the Tory/LibDem NHS Act and introduce a mansion tax and a tax on banker’s bonuses to pay for improved services. This will see the addition of new guarantees for GP appointments in 48 hours and a one-week cancer test, together with 3,000 more midwives, 5,000 more care-workers, 8,000 more GPs and 20,000 more nurses to improve care and take pressure off the most expensive hospital services.
Other commitments include actions to ease economic pressures, like freezing energy bills, breaking up the banks, building a million new homes, 25 hours a week free childcare, banning zero-hours contracts, increasing the minimum wage, introducing a living wage and ending unpaid workforce.
Ed took plenty of stick from press and pundits for not addressing the deficit in his speech to the Labour Conference in September. Never mind that the polls showed solid support for the policies he announced – how much do you reckon working people care about the bloody deficit? And do you really think most people appreciate paying for the crimes of the bankers under the wicked Tory austerity programme?
After a week of having everything thrown at him (including the kitchen sink), Ed is holding his ground. On Friday he set out his stall on Facebook. The hash tag #weBackEd was posted on Twitter and it is still trending two days later.