Ed Miliband's trial by media: Damned if he does and damned if he doesn't

In the kitchen, on the streets, in church - he just can't please some people, says Jane Merrick

Jane Merrick
Sunday 15 March 2015 01:00
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The episode with a beggar illustrated how Miliband can't win with the media
The episode with a beggar illustrated how Miliband can't win with the media

The revelation that Ed Miliband has two kitchens dominated the political agenda last week. Besides the fuss about the lime green recycling bin, does the row say more about how the Labour leader is treated by the media, Twitter and voters – that, whatever he does, he’s damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t?

1. Kitchengate

Pictures from a BBC interview with Miliband’s wife Justine last week showed the couple standing in a small, clutter-free kitchen, having a cup of tea. In The Daily Mail, Sarah Vine wrote how extraordinary it was that, despite living in a £2m-plus townhouse, the Milibands had a kitchen that was a “mean, sterile, little box” that could have been in a “Communist-era housing block in Minsk”. Then it emerged that this was a “functional kitchenette” and the family have a second, larger kitchen downstairs. It seems no one can decide whether the Labour leader is a stingy, joyless weirdo or a lavish Champagne socialist.

2. Justine

Justine Miliband didn't give interviews for more than four years (Getty)

It is the dilemma that all party leaders face: put your spouse on the political frontline to show you’re a well-rounded family man or woman, or keep them in the background? Nick Clegg’s wife, Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, last year ditched the tradition of joining her husband onstage for his party conference speech, and it was as if the Lib Dems had brought back hanging. Justine Miliband resisted doing an interview for more than four years, until last week, at which time she came out with the plea to be considered as “more than just a dress” and it was open season – on her kitchen, too.

3. Bacon sandwich

As someone educated at Oxford and Harvard, Ed Miliband has always been accused of being a lofty intellectual out of touch with “real people”. So, last May, on the campaign trail for the local and European elections, he ate a bacon sandwich while talking to a couple of voters. Even though no one looks good tucking into a bacon buttie, the pictures of his inelegant munching turned into a major gaffe. The term “bacon sandwich” is now the most Googled alongside Miliband’s name.

3. Photo-opportunities

After weeks of ridicule over the bacon sandwich, other “gaffes”, and the fact that he bears a close resemblance to the animated character Wallace, Miliband gave a self-deprecating speech last July, saying there was “more to politics than the photo-op” while admitting that he didn’t look like the politician from “central casting”. This frank confession has now been turned against him, and every time he is pictured with his family or out meeting voters he is accused of being a hypocrite.

4. Beggar

Last October, Miliband, while being followed by reporters and photographers, walked past a woman begging for change. He then doubled back and dropped some money in her cup. There were claims that it was just a 2p coin – but the woman herself said he had given her more. Yet if he had walked past her, he would have been criticised for being heartless for ignoring a homeless person.

5. Seeing Obama

Miliband, unlike his predecessors Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, has been criticised for not having strong international credentials, including with the most important contact of all, the President of the United States. So when he and his team were granted an audience with Barack Obama and his aides, you would think this would have silenced critics. But, no, Miliband was traduced for taking part in another cynical photo-opportunity while also missing a parliamentary debate on Ukraine.

6. Falling asleep at St Paul’s

Miliband beside Cameron and Clegg at St Paul's (Getty)

On Friday, a sombre ceremony honoured British soldiers killed in Afghanistan. Miliband attended along with David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Blair and Brown. A photographer caught Miliband closing his eyes – perhaps reflecting on the losses. At another point, he rubbed his eyes. The Daily Mail put the pictures together, claiming he had “nodded off”. Yesterday, a Labour source said it was an “outright lie” that Miliband had fallen asleep.

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