No, Ed Miliband isn’t slick and he doesn’t pose in the pub with a pint in his hand. So what?

I’ve studied the Labour leader close up and he’s got the makings of a great Prime Minister

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The Independent Online

I was at the Labour conference in 2010 when Ed Miliband was elected Labour leader. I didn’t realise that I was sitting with David Miliband supporters. When Ed was named leader, the air around me became like that scene out of The Graduate when you see the silent, vicious mouths of the enraged wedding guests as Dustin Hoffman’s “Benjamin Braddock” swoops in to snatch the bride away. Not being a member of the Labour Party, I had no inkling of its various factions and cabals, or the feelings that ran through it. I was pretty shocked by the vitriol.

Ed Miliband took the stage, looking very much like the new professor at university who you didn’t expect to turn up. He was earnest, gawky, off-piste, driven, single-minded and quite clearly ruthless. After all, he had taken his big brother down. He was magnificent. Two years or so later, I interviewed him at a Labour fundraiser.

Keith Vaz, who has clearly missed his vocation as a “mine host” at Butlin’s, revved us all up for the Big Event with his rather deliberately corny patter. I was set to be one of two people talking to Miliband on stage. Ed propped himself on a stool between us. He’s tall, the stool was too small, but he wasn’t cool enough to make that work, so he ranged over it. Unfortunately for us both, my theatre background alerted me to the unconscious signals he was giving off, mainly centred around, “Get me out of here. I’ve got stuff to do.” When it came time to answer a question from me, he almost tore my hand off when he took the mic. It wasn’t a hostile move. But too often with this guy, it didn’t look good.

Afterwards, I ran around asking everyone why didn’t he get help to better present himself. The word was that he wanted to Be Himself, and anyway, if it got out that he had help, he’d never hear the end of it.

So if it’s true that he had the assistance of a theatre director for his keynote speech, then he was right to not want help. His forgetting key sections of his speech this week could have been because he was concentrating on himself, on the things he may have been taught in order to come across as “warmer” and “more real”. But you don’t tinker with the lead actor on opening night. You just have to let him go and do his thing. And you pray. The new bits are left for the matinee.

Miliband’s appeal ought to be is that he’s not slick. Like most people. Most of us aren’t coached; trained in PR, cleaned up. That we want that from our politicians is tragic and dangerous. Coupled with a climate where we now have political journalists dressing up in silly costumes on TV; engaging in puerile Twitter vendettas and crushes; politics is rapidly becoming what Americans call “show business for ugly people.” This “infotainment” can end up cheapening the democratic process – and the free press itself, in an era where both are under threat.

Ed Miliband has a big brain and a big mind. The guy thinks and he actually talks. He doesn’t pose in pubs with pint glasses in his hand or gossip with plutocrat ex-mayors about the Queen. What he wants to do won’t easily fit into 24-hour rolling news, or 140 characters on Twitter.

He reminds me a lot of the little boys I used to teach in primary school – brainy, laughed at; but really happy to play alone. What counted was that in the end, these guys always had the correct answers, and in time, the other kids came to respect them. The popular dummies may have achieved more air time, but the smart kid won. And he didn’t change himself one iota. He was in school to learn, to work. That weird kid had a purpose and a supreme self-confidence. He was on the job.

On stage with him at that Labour fundraiser, I realised quickly that Miliband was somewhere else, far away. He was thinking of other stuff, bigger things other than what his favourite food was. I had been urged beforehand (in another effort to “humanise” him, I guess) to pitch him a question about Justine, his wife, a formidable person in her own right. It was a stupid “housewife” question that I did as a courtesy to my hosts. After I asked it, Miliband looked at me as if I’d lost my mind. He was right. Time to get authentic. Next year’s is a crunch election, and questions about his family life – what’s that about?

Essentially Miliband is out to do this: turn the country around in the way that he sees it, make it fairer, more productive, and keep it within the major trading bloc in which it is an important player.

All being sane, Ed Miliband should be Prime Minister of the United Kingdom this time next year. With Nicola Sturgeon as Scotland’s First Minister, the political landscape of the UK has never looked better prepared, and more reflective of our complex, challenging and rapidly changing 21st century.

Bonnie Greer’s memoir ‘Parallel Life’ is published by Arcadia Books

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