Matthew Norman: Not quite Smokin' Ed, but he's landing punches

As we enter the middle rounds of this parliament, it strikes me that too many of us, me included, wrote off Miliband too soon

Share
Related Topics

With Joe Frazier yet to be laid to rest, it will seem tastelessly previous to reappropriate his fighting sobriquet. Needs must, however, and what Ed Miliband could certainly use right now is a dead cool nickname. So today, on his behalf, I ask you henceforth to think him of as Smokin' Ed.

In truth, the sole precedent for an attempt to rebrand an opposition leader derided for his wussiness as a macho man through the medium of martial art is not encouraging. You may remember the rampant sneering that greeted Sebastian Coe's emergence from a judo session with William Hague with his arm in a sling. No one bought Hague as Bruce Lee then, and Little Ed as Joe Frazier looks a tougher challenge now.

Superficially, it must be confessed, the two have little in common. Yet glance beneath the surface, and they might be twins. "When I go out there, I have no pity on my brother," said Frazier. "I'm out there to win." Remind you of anyone?

Baby Ed was asleep in his cot during the "Fight of the Century" 40 years ago. Frazier was an underdog against Muhammad Ali that night in Madison Square Garden, most experts assuming that Ali's speed and flair would overwhelm an unshowy, unpolished opponent. For the first few rounds, so it proved. But in the middle rounds, Frazier found his range and form as Ali visibly tired, and eventually knocked him down with that fabled left hook to cement a win on points.

Could it be that Smokin' Ed is on course to replicate Frazier's form that night, by coming from behind to wear down a more fancied opponent? Six weeks ago, after his poorly reviewed conference speech, the notion would have enticed a mirthless snort, and perhaps still does. Miliband will never have David Cameron's slickness. He, like Joe Frazier, will always be on non-speakers with Mr Charisma.

Yet in these most interesting of times, slickness and charisma start to feel insultingly banal, and better regarded as historic curios from the phoney boom era of Mr Tony Blair. The week's other notable death certainly has a symbolic fin de siècle feel. When David Miliband blogs that the late Philip Gould "brought a dose of reality to Labour's other-worldly musings about the state and future of the country", he means to bitch-slap his brother for his musings. All he actually and unwittingly does is remind us that we are indeed in another world.

Using focus groups to second-guess and then echo public thinking may have worked then, but a time of grave crisis demands leadership on ideas. In his unflashy, deceptively brave way, Ed Miliband attempts to preempt the public mood rather than trail obediently in its wake. New Labour was obsessed with taking vox pops. Ed is at least trying to be the vox populi himself.

Whatever current polling reveals about the lukewarm support for Occupy London, that movement is closer to expressing the public mood than the Government would wish. Its popularity will increase as the economic outlook worsens, as it has in the United States. Occupy Wall Street now has higher approval ratings than the Tea Party, while this week Bill Clinton expressed his doubt that Americans will continue to tolerate current levels of income inequality.

In allying himself with the 99 per cent, Ed Miliband took an apparent risk from which his focus groupie brother would have recoiled in terror. David as leader would never have attacked Cameron for being genetically pre-programmed to entrench privilege rather than spread it, and free from any urge to create what Ed on Monday called "a more responsible, fairer capitalism". Being labelled as a class warrior by the right-wing tabloids has always been the uber-Blairites' Room 101 nightmare.

Yet this, as Ed understands, is an excellent, potentially game-changing line of attack. Mr Cameron's most unguarded spot is his luminescent inability to empathise with the struggles of the middle earner, hence the child benefit fiasco of 14 months ago. Never in a million years will he sound credible in claiming to share anyone's pain. Ed, on the other hand, sounds more credible by the week. The problem of getting anyone to listen persists, though rising approval ratings among Labour voters hint at progress. He leads an unexpectedly united if talent-light frontbench against a PM in deepening strife with his backbenches.

As we enter the middle rounds of this parliament. it strikes me that too many of us, me included, wrote off Ed Miliband too soon on presentational grounds. He looked dead on his feet in the spring, and a bit scrambled in the early autumn. But this boy can take a punch, and while he may not be a big clunking fist (terrible thing) or have Frazier's haymaker left hook, he is blessed with a sharp, accurate left jab capable of doing serious cumulative damage to a PM visibly running out of puff. Ed Miliband may not be quite on fire yet, but he may be gently beginning to smoke.

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Customer Support Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Support Engineer is required to join a well-...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Services Administrator - Swedish Speaking

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join an awa...

Recruitment Genius: Facilities Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Facilities Manager is required to join the m...

Recruitment Genius: New Business Sales Consultant - Mobile - OTE £35,000

£14000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This independent telecoms compa...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Police are called to Lindt Chocolat Cafe in Sydney's Martin Place, a busy plaza in the heart of the city  

After the Sydney Siege, would Australia be safer with American-style gun laws? The answer is simple

Neil Brennan
 

My cancer diagnosis cost me my home

Deanne Wilson
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum