Ed Miliband today made a candid admission of his own weaknesses as he conceded that he would never win a “photo-opportunity contest” with David Cameron.
In a bold but risky speech in London, Mr Miliband told voters they should vote for Mr Cameron if they thought that style mattered more than substance. He tackled his image problem in an attempt to change “the terms of trade of politics” ahead of next May’s general election.
The Labour leader warned that politics had become “a game of showbiz” played out by “C-list celebrities” that fewer and fewer people were watching. He argued that the “photo-op culture” demeaned politics and said that, unless politicians changed their ways, “more and more people will simply turn away.”
Mr Miliband, described by critics as looking “weird”, addressed his weaknesses head-on. “David Cameron is a very sophisticated and successful exponent of a politics based on image. I am not going to able to compete with that….. It’s not where my talents lie —as you may have noticed,” he said.
“I am not from central casting. You can find people who are more square-jawed. More chiselled. Look less like Wallace.
“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.”
Mr Miliband appealed to voters to decide what really mattered - photo ops or decency; soundbites or policy; image or ideas; style or substance and C-list celebrities or real debate.
His remarkable speech was an acknowledgement that the Conservatives will make next year’s election a “choice of two prime ministers.” Mr Cameron is ahead in the opinion polls when voters are asked who would be the best PM and Mr Miliband is not seen as a prime minister-in-waiting.
The Labour leader argued: “The current guy might take a good picture but he can’t build a country that works for you. It is not what he most cares about. And you are not who he stands up for.”
Mr Miliband set out his own “gold standard” for a modern leader, while admitting he would not always achieve it -- big ideas to change things; the sense of principle and courage needed to stick to those beliefs; and the decency and empathy to reach out to people from all backgrounds, all walks of life.
He conceded that the words he used were “sometimes too long or too complicated”, admitting that few people would be talking about “responsible capitalism” on the doorstep because “it doesn’t make a great soundbite.” But he insisted Labour’s policy was built on “serious thinking” about how to change the economy.
He offered a different kind of leadership based on “big ideas, principles, decency and empathy….something which seeks not just to defeat the Tories but overcome cynicism.”
The Labour leader warned his own party: “Our biggest obstacle isn’t the Conservative Party. It is cynicism. The belief that nobody can make a difference.” He said many people believed that politicians “are in it for ourselves, for our own success, not the country’s.”
He went on: “They believe we value posturing more than principle. Good photos or soundbites more than a decent policy. Image more than ideas. And it is no surprise that people think that. Because so often the terms of trade of politics—the way it is discussed and rated-- has become about the manufactured, the polished, the presentational.
“Politics is played out as showbiz, a game, who is up and who is down. Rather than the best chance a lot of people have to change their lives. This is not new but it has got worse. Politicians have fuelled it. The media feed it.”
Mr Miliband warned: “The public’s antennae for the artificiality, the triviality, the superficiality of politics is more highly tuned than ever. And the more we make it look like that is what matters to us, the more the public are put off. Unless we stand up now and say that we want to offer people something different, more and more will simply turn away.”