Village People: Ed chooses an unlikely role model in Tricky Dicky

At the party conferences
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Indy Politics

Ever since President Richard Nixon told a 1973 television audience that "I am not a crook", it has been a rule that politicians get nowhere by trying to contradict the impression the public has formed of them. So Ed Miliband was on a hiding to nothing yesterday when he was challenged on the Today programme about whether he is "weird". This was on a day when that old trooper Denis Healey, in a supportive interview in the Standard, felt compelled to add: "It's unfortunate that [Ed] doesn't have the same charisma as his brother, or David Cameron."

"I think I'm a normal guy," Miliband replied, which is not going to get him anywhere. He is not normal, he is unusual. It took unusual qualities to get him where he is. Calling himself "normal" sounds, well, abnormal. I suggest that next time he should change gear and say that times are weird and that it needs someone serious to sort them out.

In danger of going off the rails...

Whoever planned the layout of the commercial stalls at the conference venue in Liverpool had a sense of humour. The Yes to High Speed Rail stall is next but one to StopHS2, with only Parkinson's UK in between. There have been some tense moments between the stands...

Boy wonder's 'Hague moment' didn't win everyone over

Having wowed the Labour conference earlier in the week, 16-year-old Rory Weal is learning what it is like to be targeted by the right-wing press.

"If they'd known about his grammar school education, they'd have booed," proclaimed Christine Odone, in the Daily Telegraph. "This self-designated creation of Britain's welfare state is apparently incapable of mouthing anything other than crude propaganda," wrote the Daily Mail's ever charming Melanie Phillips, while a headline in the same paper promised to reveal "the truth behind his 'life of poverty'".

They have been fired-up because Rory Weal did not mention he is a grammar school boy whose father was a millionaire property developer. But he never claimed to have lived "a life of poverty" either. What he said was: "I owe my entire well-being and that of my family to the welfare state. That is why I joined the Labour Party."

Early in his teens, his father's business collapsed, the family homes were repossessed, his parents' marriage broke up, and he was taken out of private school because they could not afford the fees, and transferred to a Kent grammar school.

This was a traumatic experience even for a millionaire's son, such as would open any intelligent child's eyes to the value of the welfare state. Would the audience have booed if he had downloaded the whole story? I think not.

Reading between the lines

Three days ago, I wondered aloud at Ed Miliband's claim that One Day was the only book he read on holiday, apart from crime thrillers. At the Labour conference yesterday, he bumped into Owen Jones, author of that surprise publishing hit Chavs, and declared he had read that during the holiday. It makes me want to dress up as Tolstoy and see if he will tell me he read War and Peace too.



The talk of Australia

Congratulations to John McTernan, Tony Blair's former political adviser, on his new job as communications director for Australia's Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. McTernan is an undying Blairite. I hope he doesn't find that his new boss is too left-wing.



The votes are not in

I would be the last to suggest that elections to the trade union section of Labour's National Executive Committee are stitched up, but I note that there were 13 candidates for 12 places. In first place came 11 candidates with 2,591,338 votes each, while another came a close 12th with 2,589,648. Trailing in 13th place was Rebekah Peterson, from Aslef, with only 17,190. That is about the size of Aslef's block vote. The block votes of all other unions combined come to just under 2.6 million. "It was a deal that went wrong at the last minute. She was supposed to get on," an Aslef source tells me.

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