Ed Miliband's One Nation conference speech was political transvestism at it's most stylish

Anyone half-worth electing has stolen their opponents' clothes, but for transvestism not to collapse into drag, it must be sustained and convincing

Share

 

In 1997, the star of The Odd Couple, Walter Matthau, gave me a very enjoyable interview at his home in Los Angeles for a biography of Glenda Jackson (which is not available in any good bookshops). We were meant to be talking about the two films he had done with Glenda, but we spent most of the time talking about politics. He reckoned there were only two things he valued in a politician. Courage, because he reckoned that he lacked it, having deliberately signed the Stockholm Peace Pledge illegibly so the anti‑communist witch-hunters would never come looking for him, and chutzpah. (He loved Yiddish words.)

Walter would have been happy with Ed Miliband this week. He dripped chutzpah. After all, not even Tony Blair could have lectured a Labour Party conference on One Nation Toryism, let alone cited a Tory prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli, with approval. Yet Ed engaged in one of the most flagrant cases of political transvestism in recent history.

It’s not a new phenomenon. Anyone half-worth electing as prime minister (and some who weren’t) has stolen their opponents’ clothes. Despite having been born at Blenheim Palace, when Winston Churchill addressed Harrow schoolboys in 1940, he might as easily have been reading out a Labour Party membership card, declaring that he wanted “to establish a state of society where the advantages and privileges which hitherto have been enjoyed only by the few shall be far more widely shared by the many”. George W Bush tried something similar with his “compassionate conservatism”, and until very recently the whole point of Cameron was the detoxification of Toryism by donning others’ garb.

Cameron's ttempt to don husky-chasing, hoodie-hugging, gay-embracing garb was little more than political drag

But for transvestism not to collapse into drag it has to be sustained and convincing. It requires real commitment. And that’s why one of the most important things Ed said was that Labour understands why people gave Cameron the benefit of the doubt and voted for him last time. Rather than write off 47 per cent of the electorate as per Governor Romney, Labour has to look outside the enclave. Not everyone agrees. I got accused by some conference-goers of “pandering to the Daily Mail” as shadow immigration minister this week (while also being attacked by the Daily Express). Now I don’t care for the politics of those papers; I despise the way they often engineer stories to fit their prejudices and I have often found it ironic that the original owners of the intentionally moralising Mail, the two viscounts Rothermere and Northcliffe, were serial adulterers. But sometimes they have been more in touch with our voters than we have and Labour needs to reach out to their readers.

That doesn’t mean pandering to the hard right. But it does mean addressing concerns over immigration and welfare. Ed has now laid down a challenge to Cameron. If next week’s conference sees a string of right-wing Tory crowd-pleasers, it will be clear that Cameron’s attempt to don husky-chasing, hoodie-hugging, gay-embracing garb was little more than political drag. He should recall that when it seemed that Churchill was not in earnest about egalitarianism in 1945, he lost badly.

 

And our thanks to the ironing board...

 

British politics is a shoestring affair, and half the time we are trying to hide the sticky-back plastic that is holding the whole thing together. The Commons convention is that ministers give a copy of their statement to their shadow an hour before delivery. Increasingly, though, this is being more honoured in the breach. Party conference is even worse. Shadow Cabinet ministers are normally drafting their keynote speeches late into the night and one room becomes a press office, typing pool, meeting room, dressing room and bedroom. It is also a vital rehearsal space.

Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper have got this taped, though, as they have a portable lectern, which, when propped up on an ironing board and a couple of boxes of orange juice, passes for a simulated conference podium.

Cutting off one’s nose the Tory way

A French court agreed this week that teacher Jeremy Forrest could be extradited back to Britain under the European Arrest Warrant. Yet only a couple of decades ago such extradition proceedings could take months, and the easiest way to evade justice here was to flee the country. Hence the popularity of the Costa del Crime. Successive British governments worried about this and signed up to changes in 1957, 1977, 1995 and 1996 – and the European Arrest Warrant came into existence in 2004. Such is the wild hatred of all things European that it is rumoured Cameron will announce at Tory conference that they will opt out of the warrant. He must be off his trolley.

Charlotte Church’s awful answer

The most remarkable part of Labour conference for me was meeting the dapper and dignified Christopher Jefferies, who was appallingly smeared by the press (on the basis of nothing) after the murder of his tenant Joanna Yeates. Christopher was there to address a fringe meeting by Hacked Off, who are campaigning for statutory powers to ensure redress and reparation for such heinous mistakes. There was some amusement among Labour colleagues, though, when Tom Watson pointed out that the press had even alleged that Christopher was a Lib Dem councillor.

Charlotte Church, inset, who sarcastically dedicates her latest song “Mr The News” to Andy Coulson, will be at the parallel Hacked Off meeting at the Tory conference. When she was invited to sing at the White House, President George Bush asked her where she was from, to which she said: “Wales.” Bush asked: “What state’s that in?” “Awful,” she said. I suspect Bush didn’t even know he’d been outwitted.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: New Business Development Manager / Sales - UK New Business

£24000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Join a fast growing, UK based I...

MBDA UK Ltd: Mission Planning and Control Solutions Systems Engineer

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity? A pro-act...

MBDA UK Ltd: System Design Capability

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity? The small...

Recruitment Genius: Time Served Fabricator / Welders - Immediate Start

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fabricator welder required for ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Under the current rate of progress, the UK will only reduce its carbon emissions by 21- 23 per cent between 2013 and 2025  

The Government's cosy relationship with big energy companies is killing thousands of people

Zachary Boren
 

Not only is Liz Kendall a shy Tory, but her words are also likely to appeal to racists

Charlie Brinkhurst Cuff
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific