Friday, 7 November 2014

The Evidence Against Ed Milliband

Let's face facts: politics is a dumb game often played by even dumber people. We can try to dress up Westminster but pomp and finery really only get us so far. Wrap ermine around an arsehole and you don't reduce its essential arseholeiness. Politics is the art of egregious manipulation; it is pandering to our lowest motivations, whether that's putting more money in our pockets or keeping more foreigners out. Politicians who don't play that game and aim high will usually fall the lowest. Few politicians have fallen in the public's estimation further and more quickly than Nick Clegg, yet there are not many politicians who have put their country before their better political calculations. A stable government at the time of the last election might have been best for the country and even the wider financial system but it has destroyed the Lib Dems for a generation. Is that fair? Hell no. Political life is rarely fair.

And so we come to Ed Miliband. Ed Miliband is probably a nice guy. Safe, dependable, and with brains to succeed. He's not been terrible as Labour Party leader but neither has he lit many bonfires. He's obviously not the new Blair but, if anybody wanted the new Blair, they'd slap some tan on the old one. Nor is Ed the new Neil Kinnock, who lacked many of Ed's virtues but had a certain fiery passion and was LOUD. VERY LOUD. No, if one word damns Ed Miliband it is the word 'nice'. He's been a very nice Labour leader.

Because I think that politics is essentially a dumb game, I have myself a big dumb theory about general elections. It's not insightful. It's not complicated. Unlike many, I'm not actually cynical about politics or even politicians. Politics is only as dumb as the populace it's trying to manipulate and my big dumb theory is really an expression of my utter cynicism towards the general public who don't really care about politicians, don't have strong opinions about the main parties, and look like they're going to reject them in even great numbers by voting for UKIP.

Despite my thinking that politics is dumb, I am fascinated by the game. I read and listen to all the pundits who talk about swings to the left and the right, the mood of the electorate, and the financial situation of floating voters. I hear all kinds of theories about why certain parties do better in the north and why the mood of the nation changes based on the time of the year, the number of royal babies on the way, and even the length of women's dresses. Yet I've found nothing that beats my big dumb theory.

My big dumb theory is this: General Elections are always won by the better looking party leader.

You might frown at that but I'm not claiming that all our Prime Ministers have been stunningly good looking. I'm merely saying that, compared to their opponent, the better looking candidate always wins. Good looking doesn't always mean more handsome. Character has much to do with it. You will not win an election if you have a silly sounding voice unless your opponent has an even sillier sounding voice. John Major's voice looked like it was going to lose him the 1992 general election until Neil Kinnock stood up and started to shout 'alright!' and then the public realised which silly sounding voice sounded the least annoying and least likely to leave them with a four-year-long headache.

I've produced the graphic on the right to make my point. Not only are our Prime Ministers getting progressively better looking but you'll see that we have to go back to the early 1970s to find a genuinely close ugliness contest between Heath and Wilson. In 1974, we had two general elections when the British public really couldn't decide which one of them was better looking.

If my theory is correct, David Cameron will walk the next election simply based on his looks. The reason is pretty obvious. Small things matter when the percentages are close. Historically, parties have always battled hard for the remaining percentage points to sway an election and something as apparently trivial as the leader's face, character, manner, and voice can make enough of a difference. The key, I think, is to ask cartoonists who they'd least like to draw. Nick Clegg is as fiendishly difficult to caricature as Miliband is easy. Handsome but bland faces are  always harder to draw than unique and interesting faces. And because of that, I think Miliband is doomed. He has a unique and interesting face.

Let me be clear: despite everything I've just said, I like Ed Miliband. Given a choice of sitting down and having lunch with either man, I'd always choose Miliband over Cameron. I think he's intelligent, compassionate, and a good speaker. He is everything that the Labour Party should want in a leader. However, he does have physical flaws which the British public simply won't look beyond. Is it cruel to comment on his hair, the bend in his nose, his deepset eyes, his lips, his teeth, or his adenoidal voice? Yes it is. But politics is a cruel bastard of a game and as Twitter constantly proves, people are not so enlightened that they won't mock somebody for their looks. As Kenneth Clarke put it this morning: ' I have to say I’m afraid I share the judgment of the majority of the public about whether [Miliband] looks like a potential prime minister.”

It's also worth remembering that it was the Unions who voted for Miliband. MPs and party members had voted for David, not Ed. It was a huge miscalculation. David Miliband was a guest on The Colbert Report over in America a few nights ago and he demonstrated why he'd have walked the next election. Unfortunately, brother Ed is Labour's William Hague. Hague was always destined to become Prime Minister. He had the brains and political acumen to rise to that position, except Fate had also bitch slapped him into oblivion with a billiard shine and banjo twang of a voice.

So, it's no surprise that Miliband might face a leadership challenge. Sadly, I think it needs to happen. Much as I like Ed Miliband, I think Labour need to have a leader to make the next election honest. The polls don't matter, even at this late stage. In the heat of battle, with Cameron, Miliband, Clegg and Farage, lined up on stage, Cameron will undoubtedly emerge the winner. I'm sure of it. Change the faces, however, and I think things will be different. Labour are actually blessed by quite a good looking front bench. Some could breeze through the next election. Given a couple of good months in the job, Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham, or even (here's a crazy idea) Tristram Hunt would make politics interesting again and they might actually save us from the prospect of UKIP holding the reins of power in this country. This really isn't about the snide comments made about one good man's looks. This is about saving us from a truly terrifying prospect of seeing Nigel Farage as our new Deputy Prime Minister and, unfortunately, my big dumb theory has no reassuring data to assure us that ugly men can never become the power behind the throne.

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