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The importance of being earnest (if you look like Ed Miliband and want to be Prime Minister)

Our diarist says that the Labour leader is an unusual looking fellow at the best of times. What significance will the public attach to that fact at the next election?

How important is it to be earnest? I ask because I was watching the latest edition of the Ed and Ed road show in rain-swept Stevenage, trying to decide whether Ed Miliband could ever look like a Prime Minister. The shape of the opinion polls in recent months makes it a relevant question.

Stevenage’s old town is the setting for E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End, wherein you find the quote “Only connect!” Only connect is what the Labour leader was earnestly striving to do, with 100 or so factory workers and assorted members of the public.

But he does not project himself like a modern party leader. He does not do the “guy you’d like to chat to in the pub” act. He wears a tie. He keeps his jacket on. He did not tell jokes. He insisted on knowing the name of each person who asked a question so that he could address them by name when he replied. He is like the guest who is too serious to enliven the party but very anxious to help tidy up afterwards.

Only three opposition leaders in 35 years have gone on to be Prime Minister. One exuded the iron conviction that she was always right. Two had charm, boundless self-belief, and charisma, and expert image manipulation.

Ed Miliband is very, very earnest. I wonder if the public will think it is important.

Cameron desperate to avoid another slip in the rain

David Cameron pulled yesterday’s Cabinet meeting forward to an antisocial 8.30am start so that he could rush off and be photographed in flood-ridden parts of the UK. He attached immense importance to be seen where folks are knee-deep in water. That was because in 2007, Cameron travelled to Rwanda to demonstrate he was a Tory who cared about Africa, when the rain was pouring down in his Witney constituency. Having endured ridicule for being in the wrong place, he donned the wellies as soon as he got back, but there was no media coverage. That fiasco still haunts him.

Labour’s Rottweiler bites back

Whether or not the UK Independence Party deserves their current luck, there is no doubt that they are on a roll. They are likely to have another blast of welcome publicity when the result comes in from tomorrow’s by-election in Rotherham, where Labour’s nerves have been badly frayed by the fostering story.

The agency TNS BMRB published a national opinion poll yesterday putting Ukip third, ahead of the Liberal Democrats. But things have not gone quite so well for the Ukip peer, Lord Willoughby. He tried reporting the Labour bruiser, Tom Watson, to the Commons authorities for failing to declare a financial interest from the publication of his book about the Murdoch media empire. Bad idea.

Watson was cleared, and retaliated by setting his researchers onto Lord Willougby’s affairs. The outcome, announced yesterday, is that Lord Willoughby has had to apologise in writing for failing to declare his business interests properly.