Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Photo-ops 'diminish our politics'

Ed Miliband is launching a summer campaign to woo the electorate

Ed Miliband has hit back at critics of his leadership insisting principles and ideas are more important in politics than style and image.

The Labour leader insisted the party now had the policies in place to win next year's general election while he offered an alternative to the image-driven politics of David Cameron.

In a highly personal address, he sought to make light of his "geeky" image which has seen him lampooned by cartoonists as Wallace from the Wallace and Gromit animated film series and ridiculed over his attempts to eat a bacon sandwich.

At the same time he warned that the increasing focus on style over substance was fuelling public cynicism and disillusionment with politicians and the political process.

"I am not from central casting. You can find people who are more square-jawed, more chiselled, look less like Wallace," he said in a speech to mark the start of Labour's summer campaigning.

"You could probably even find people who look better eating a bacon sandwich. If you want the politician from central casting, it's just not me, it's the other guy.

"And if you want a politician who thinks that a good photo is the most important thing, then don't vote for me. Because I don't.

"But here's the thing: I believe that people would quite like somebody to stand up and say there is more to politics than the photo-op. And that culture diminishes our politics."

While he described Mr Cameron is "a very sophisticated and successful exponent of a politics driven by image", he said the reality of what the Prime Minister did was often at odds with the appearance.

"If principle simply becomes replaced by expediency, then all it does is add further to cynicism, the sense that politics is just a game," he said.

"Like when someone hugs a husky before an election and then says cut the green crap after it. Or hugs a hoodie before an election and then says they should be locked up afterwards. Or says they are a compassionate Conservative before an election and then acts like a callous Conservative after."

Mr Miliband said a culture where "politics is played out as showbiz" denied people a debate about issues that really matter and did "deep harm to our country".

"This is not new but it has got worse. Politicians have fuelled it. The media feed it. At Prime Minister's Questions, we keep score," he said.

"When Tory women get appointed to the Cabinet, they are said to be 'walking down the Downing Street catwalk' and things are judged far more on style than substance."

The Labour leader acknowledged that he did sometimes "get it wrong", saying: " I know, especially for people on Merseyside, me holding up a copy of The Sun was one of those days."

He nevertheless insisted that he was committed to sticking by his principles and the virtues of "decency and empathy" needed to reach out to people from all walks of life.

"My true test of leadership is not just whether you look the part but whether you can retain your soul," he said.

Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps dismissed his comments, accusing him of only being interested in talking about himself.

" If he wants to be taken seriously he should be talking about the economy and how we can secure a better future for our children and grandchildren. Not why he struggles to eat a bacon sandwich," he said.

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