While Ed Miliband was lamenting to Andrew Marr on Sunday the falling living standards “so many people are facing…” the capsules behind him of the Brighton Wheel started slowly to move downwards as if to illustrate his point. So mesmerising was the sight that you wondered for a second if Damian McBride would leap down from one of them and advance on the studio, machete in hand.
That he didn’t was disappointing, given that the McBride memoirs are the leitmotif of Labour’s own scary movie, Omen V. In the first of the franchise, the satanic changeling Damien grows up to spread death and destruction. In the new sequel, changing the penultimate letter of his name in a fiendish effort to deceive his pursuers, he becomes a politician’s evil spin doctor, hell-bent on destroying his master’s enemies as he rises to supreme power. And, once unmasked, turns on his former associates by trying to implicate them in his wickedness.
Sadly, Ed Miliband was unable to say he had tried to murder him with the Seven Daggers of Megiddo as in the original Gregory Peck version. But he did tell Marr that he had asked Gordon Brown to sack him.
This was one of the less cautious Miliband answers. Otherwise, Labour would “look at” various policy options. It would “look” at whether the minimum wage should be raised. If there were “public services” issues of women wearing the niqab they should be “looked at”. They would be “looking at” what level to bring in a mansion tax. And, on whether unions would have their voting power reduced: “we have been looking at” the consequences of changing the funding system.
Which is just as well. Those speaking in favour of party reform were ultra-emollient towards the unions. “I am guided by Ed Miliband’s words – I want to mend the link, not end the link,” Lord Collins, “looking at” the change, told delegates. Could the party end up with the unions having the same power but for less money? Luckily, perhaps, for a Labour leader trying to show the public his plans were real, that was not how the GMB leader Paul Kenny saw it. Which is why he thundered: “The removal or sale of our collective voice is not on the agenda.” It was almost reminiscent of when there were real rows at Labour conferences.
Asked by Marr if he had been part of the “macho” culture evoked by McBride, Miliband said: “I’m not sure I’ve been accused of being macho. That’s a first.” But was he being fair to himself? He had risked being photographed on Brighton beach with his family, after all. And the last time a Labour leader did that was when Neil Kinnock fell over in the same place in 1983. If that isn’t boldly exorcising past demons, what is?