In The Atomic Man, a sadly forgotten 1950s science-fiction film, the eponymous hero lives seven seconds in the future, with the result that when interviewed for a magazine he answers the questions before they've been put. Disconcertingly, that was exactly what seemed to be happening to Ed Miliband yesterday. After a period in full flow on the enticing announcements Ed Balls and he would be making over the next few days on pensions, energy companies and, of course, the banks, he told Andrew Marr: "Let me go to your question directly…" To which Marr responded, reasonably enough: "I haven't asked it yet."
True, Miliband did not so far shed his geekish image as to find his body surrounded by a radioactive halo as the movie's hero did. He stuck doggedly, even as Marr valiantly attempted to divert him, to his explanation of the rebarbative concept of "pre-distribution", as in: "This is all about how in tough fiscal times where there isn't money around, Labour can make a difference." And of course no other Labour leader would have flown a US professor to Manchester to turn the whole conference, as former Reith lecturer Michael Sandel did yesterday, into a surreally gigantic Harvard seminar on market forces and its limits.
If not exactly Miliband on speed, this did seem like an invigorated one, however, mowing down Marr interjections, giving the first airing to a soundbite he liked so much he used it again in the afternoon on David Cameron's flirtation with cuddliness before the election – "Now he wants to lock up the hoodies and he doesn't give a damn about the huskies" – and repeatedly dismissing as "wrong" union baron Len McCluskey's endearingly back-to-the-Seventies declaration that his members were "furious" with the party's "crazy" policy of pay restraint.
Professor Sandel, a man who the freshly front-footed Miliband introduced as having "filled football stadiums" (in Asia, that is; hard to imagine chants of "there's only one Michael Sandel" down the road at Old Trafford), put on quite a show. He audibly shocked delegates by revealing that in the Santa Barbara jail in California inmates can "upgrade" their cells for a mere $90 a night. And proceeded to take a series of votes which skilfully teased out the conference's overwhelming opposition to what Sandel called the "market society": against super-casinos and supermarkets which drove out corner shops, in favour of banning television advertising for children.
This week is all about exposing Ed's inner human, of course, though even the new Party Political Broadcast on show yesterday still has Haverstock Comprehensive classmate Socratis Socratous recalling in wonder that when it came to maths, "the way his brain worked… was incredible". Unsurprisingly, perhaps, brother David does not figure in the broadcast. In The Atomic Man the hero has to foil a dastardly plot by a sinister double hellbent on sabotaging his work. But here the parallel stops, of course; as Miliband patiently explained yet again in the interview, not being in the Shadow Cabinet had been David's choice, not his.
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