Simon Carr: Meet Ed – he wants to connect with you (but not talk to you)

Sketch: Tough but not in the wrong way. Listening tough. Listening strong
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The Independent Online

But first, a question. Why does Ed Miliband keep saying he connects well with people? He was doing it again at his press conference. He walked in, ignored everyone, mounted the lectern, and for no particular reason started reading out his essay on the subject of E Miliband. "My campaign". "I believe." "I'm proud." Me, me, me. Then it was "I'm not the comfort candidate," or something of that sort. He made a particular point about his lack of comfort. "If you want that," he declared, "I'm not your man."

Very well. But who was this "you" he was talking to? He was at a press conference. We were journalists. Have journalists said they particularly want a comfort candidate? I didn't know whether or not to look disappointed. Maybe Ed wasn't talking to me ("connecting with" me, then). I was unconnected enough to drift off into a reverie.

I met him at a party a month or two ago. He was by himself – odd thing for a leader to be. My wife, who smokes – with considerable panache – was on her way outside. She said to him, "Do you smoke?" He said, "No. But I wish I did." My wife said, "Oh how interesting, why do you say that?" And he replied, "Er... excuse me, I have to go somewhere."

Fair enough, it was cunning answer to a tricky question. And maybe each of us was at cross purposes: my wife was trying to have a conversation and he was trying "to connect".

Back at the press conference I awoke to hear him make a long list of comforting propositions to the Labour Party. More union membership. "Draw a line under Iraq". Not to "dump on" their record. And to occupy the centre ground by defining and shaping what the centre ground is supposed to be.

"If you really believe in something," he says, "you've got to stand up for it." (Like he stood up for not smoking.) There was a lot of that sort of stuff. The Labour Party "is best when its values are clear." True or false?

It was also important to "do politics" in a different way. Some people, he said, boast about how tough and strong they are. That was the different way of saying Ed Balls is a bully. But then he said he himself was tough in principles and strong in beliefs – the crucial difference was that he "listened". Tough but not in the wrong way. Listening tough. Listening strong. Not a smoker as such but one who would smoke subjunctively.

He has a lively face, especially in an electrical storm. But it's not all good news. There's a sort of swashing in his mouth when he talks, the little eyes stare out at you, his eyebrows jerk about, the mouth twists and undulates like a snake with its tail in its mouth. Does he work on television? Can he really get on before the watershed?

"I believe I am the change," he said. It's nice to have continuity in a party. It's the very line used in Downing Street three years ago when Gordon Brown introduced himself to a welcoming nation.

He also said he loved his brother "very much". When people say "love" and "very much" they may not be lying exactly but they're never telling the truth.

Bow to the elder brother

Dominic Lawson, Viewspaper, page 3