by David Talbot
August, clearly, was not quite the sojourn the Labour leader no doubt dearly wished it to be. The hitherto unheard of George Mudie, apparently the MP for Leeds East, initiated the dreadful barrage that was to be directed at the Labour leader over a fearsome few weeks.
Pilloried from left to right, upon his return Miliband was attacked in a different form when a disgruntled bystander threw an egg as he sauntered round a south London market. Amongst the many reactions was the question of “why?” – it was in itself a surprise to many that a member of the public had formed a sufficient enough opinion of Miliband as to be angry.
For the Labour’s leader’s strategy has been personified by that of the forever being the tortoise, and certainly not the hare, on the path to 2015. It has been eloquently articulated as “zen socialism” and, astonishingly, really is the only “-ism” one can apply to Miliband nearly three years into his leadership.
“Zen socialism” first troubled the English language in the aftermath of Labour’s bloody leadership election. In those troubled days the strategy had an ounce of sense; Labour had just been crushed in the general election and had subjected itself to a ridiculously long internal election that had split the party in two.
A sustained period of quiet reflection seemed imminently sensible. The electorate were neither listening nor cared about what the Labour party was saying or doing. Polls reflected comfortable Labour leads that were more a referendum on the coalition than anything the Labour party was doing. A safety first approach seemed attractive and sensible; time to rebuild, heal and fight renewed.
At some point in every parliament, though, the cycle of politics ceases to be a referendum about the government and turns into a choice between parties. When that point comes, as it now surely has, Labour really ought to look like a plausible party of government offering a coherent, costed and attractive prospectus. The party is, to put it politely, some way off that. Members of the public are categorically not telling pollsters and canvassers that they wish Ed Miliband would just take that little bit longer to define himself and outline concrete policies.