Is there still a bit of Tony Blair left inside Ed Miliband? The question bugged me as I listened to the Labour leader doing what he does best – giving a speech to a predominantly sympathetic audience – in London today.
Actually, it was more of a talk, a lecture. He would have made a very good university lecturer, if he had not taken a wrong turn and ended up in politics. Even in my student days, when learning took second place to sex and drugs, I would have climbed out of bed to hear a lecturer who could tell it like Ed. And if there was content to match the quality of the delivery, it would have been an educative experience indeed.
But is he Blairish? His older brother would have had Tony’s phrases and mannerism gushing forth like flood water from the burst banks of the Mole. But Ed had only a momentary Blairatic spasm when invited by the BBC’s Nick Robinson to say something to upset the hundreds of Labour faithful in the hall – a challenge his predecessor never left unmet. “There will be cuts and we will not be borrowing more for day-to-day spending,” said Ed. But he slipped those words in during a passage that began with the phrase: “To be fair to my party, for a moment…” Being fair to his party isn’t Blair, it really isn’t.
Besides, you need more than a couple of centre-right sentiments to do a proper Blair. You need the full panoply, including the practice of putting up a proposition that no one sensible agrees with, only to knock it down with great firmness. “People say, ‘Kill all the first born.’ Well, I mean…” (pause, to look bemused by such folly) “…to me that is unacceptable!”
Ed doesn’t do the Blairite mannerisms: he has his own, some of which are geekily odd. But a quarter of an hour into his Q&A session, he declared: “The vulnerable in this country are being tossed aside…” A Blairite pause, a slight stutter, and then, with fierce determination, he announced: “I am not embarrassed to be talking about that!” The way he confounded those who presume that Ed Miliband is embarrassed to be talking about the vulnerable was classic Blair – proof that a little bit of the old magician lingers on.
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