It’s “not flash, just Gordon” redux. And is likely to be even less successful.

by Atul Hatwal

It’s been said that he is the son of Brown and today Ed Miliband made a quintessential Brownite move.

His speech on leadership could have been lifted wholesale from Gordon Brown’s back catalogue. In fact, if it wasn’t quite lifted, it was almost certainly written by some of the same hands that crafted Gordon Brown’s attempt to address his image problem.

Back in 2007, Gordon Brown was struggling against a telegenic Conservative leader. Plus ça change. Brown seemed awkward and uncomfortable in his own skin. The response? “Not flash, just Gordon.” Saatchi & Saatchi designed the poster below and the message was clear: substance over style.

Not flash just Gordon

To bolster Gordon’s credentials as a serious but normal kind of guy, his wife was deployed for media opportunities.  A Mirror headline trumpeted in 2008 that she was to be Labour’s “secret weapon.”

Sound familiar?

Fast forward to today and its Ed’s turn to be self-deprecating about his media talents and attack and the emphasis on “photo-opp politics” in contrast to his own sincerity and conviction. And here’s the Huff Post headline for the Justine Thornton interview from 3 days ago, “Could Ed’s wife turn out to be his secret weapon?”

We’ve been here before and we know how this story ends. In fact, its likely to go even less well for Ed than it did for Gordon, for three reasons.

First, Brown was prime minister. Whatever the shortcomings of the politician, the office bestows authority and Gordon Brown’s experience at the top of British politics meant he did have a certain gravitas. The most successful line his team used in this campaign was “no time for a novice.” Not something Ed Miliband can say.

Second, Twitter was not a factor before the last election. It is now. As Ed Miliband delivered his speech, my timeline filled up with his photo-opps, from the 7,000 mile round trip for a photo with president Obama, to this absolute peach from the pasty tax campaign (h/t James Manning),

Photo opp

These pictures, so many pictures, fundamentally cut across Ed Miliband’s narrative. His supporters, such as George Eaton at the New Statesman, point out that its not photo-opps that Miliband is decrying, but those that think they are the most important thing. But this is a nuance too far. If Ed Miliband makes a speech attacking “photo-opp politics”, what do Labour’s media team think is going to happen next?

Either you do them and accept that they are part of the process, or you don’t. Complaining about them, while still doing them, just looks bad. Noone likes to see a politician whine about politics.

Third, the wives don’t help. They make things worse. Both Sarah Brown and Justine Thornton come across as bright, talented women. And both make their husbands seem even more odd.

Their love and support for their partners is touching. But any validation they provide is negated by the contrast between these smart, articulate and photogenic spouses and the awkward and forced demeanour of men like Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband.

The reality is that image is important in politics, for good reason. We don’t elect textbooks or policy papers, we elect leaders. Central and essential to leadership is the ability to persuade, explain and instill confidence.

Anyone can look bad in a snap eating a sandwich, the problem for Ed Miliband is what it encapsulates. And all of the fine words about sincerity, the soft focus interviews with Justine, the pleas to look beyond image, will not change the public’s fundamental view about what makes a good leader and whether they think Labour’s leader fits the bill.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut


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16 Responses to “It’s “not flash, just Gordon” redux. And is likely to be even less successful.”

  1. Dan says:

    Strange speech. “Hey guys! You know how you don’t much rate me and the very notion of Prime Minister Miliband makes people snort with laughter? Well, you’re wrong, and obviously a pack of image obsessed simpletons. Vote Labour!”

    Personally, I’m more bothered by the fact that Miliband still hasn’t really given any clear reasons about why he wants to be PM. There’s been plenty of hot air and ‘Fourth Sector Pathfinders’ type bollocks, but the man seems unable to let us plebs know what he’d do if he got the job.

    I dunno, I think it’s Occams Razor, he had a thoroughly undistinguished ministerial career and hasn’t done much in opposition. Maybe he is just a useless pol after all?

  2. Steve says:

    Very sorry to change the subject but thought some of you might enjoy this on the demise of the BNP – funny

  3. Tafia says:

    I see Tubby Balls is holding the pies.

  4. Robert says:

    Miliband’s image problems are not as bad as Brown’s. The problem with Brown was that the voters knew him but they might not have made a final decision on Miliband. I also think that Miliband is not trying to be someone else. He is a nice and intelligent man, while Brown was not nice nor as intelligent as he and his admirers thought.

    Regarding the substance, Miliband has a clearer idea than Brown about what he wants to do as Prime Minister.

  5. Fred says:

    Twitter destroys any BS narative. Every time the Miliband machine tries to paint a picture they are shot down in flames.

    Product of seconday modern educashion. Can’t spell don’t do grammar.

  6. Fred says:

    Osborne and Balls both went on a diet. One was successful.

  7. 07052015 says:

    Looks like the blairite boys disagree on tactics with the tory girls.

    Shrewd speech by ed but the debates will be key to improving his image.

    Little boy lost works for boris with women as every publicschoolboy knows

  8. swatantra says:

    You don’t win elections on ‘principles’ and because you’re a decent chap/chapess. You win elections on showing that you are a competant b*stard and that you’re not afraid to take on luddites and dissenters and anti-modernisers who stand between your country and progress.

  9. Robert wales says:

    Brown was a problem for him self the people knew him to be totally hopeless , we had Blair son of Thatcher, now Miliband son of Brown and you have Miliband trying his best to throw that one off sadly the problem is nobody now knows what the hell labour is any more ,socialist, Tory Lite or just hopeless.

  10. Tafia says:

    Interesting result in a council by-Election in Walsall MBC a couple of days ago. % change is based on 2012 in the same seat. Although the turn-out was only 22.4%, that was actually up on the 2012 turn-out.

    Labour 1075 (47.8%; -17.3%)
    Conservative 710 (31.6%; +19.0%)
    UKIP 445 (19.8%; +19.8%)
    English Democrats 20 (0.9%; -5.0%)
    [BNP 0.0; -10.5%]
    [Liberal Democrat 0.0; -3.4%]
    [Green Party 0.0; -2.7%]

  11. John Reid says:

    Tafia although the BNP not standing may have had an effect,English democrats losing some support to Ukip, and Ukip gaining from the BNP, I guess the BNP vote 12 years a go was probably Labour,

    If I read this right, the Libdem voted stayed at home,it shows a basic swing from labour too Tory.

    The prediction the Tories will win with more than 20′ I could see them getting 10% more than Labour next year and only winning a 15 seat majority, with Ukip, possibly taking Thurrock, as such there votes will stack up in, so many of their heartlands.

  12. BenM says:

    “Not flash just Gordon”

    The mistake here is the audience was saying: “Yeah and we don’t like Gordon!”.

    The spinners would have been better sticking with the Blair line and depicting him squashing Cameron with the byline “the big clunking fist!”

    It may not have been true, but Gordon (and probably Ed) need to “change” the image, not enforce the current one.

  13. Tafia says:

    Another Metropolitan Borough by-election last Thursday, this time in Ed Milibands back yard in Doncaster. UKIP gain from Labour.

    UKIP 1,203 (40.8% +40.8%)
    Labour 1,109 (37.6% +1.9%)
    Conservative 479 (16.2% -3.0%)
    Green 160 (5.4% +5.4%)
    [Lib Dem 0.0 -15.8%]
    [English Democrat 0.0 -19.9%]
    [Independent 0.0 -11.9%]

  14. Ex labour says:

    Lets be honest about this. Apart from Jonathan Todd on this blog, virtually everyone excepts that Miliband is just weird and trying to make a virtue out of your own weirdness does not help you or the Labour party. He was, and in reality still is, a political wonk and thats where he belongs behind the scenes. He’s a stage hand not the male lead.

    If he wants to change what he feels is important in politics then why not stop Labour jumping on every Twatterstorm that erupts at the slightest thing, or stop ordering pasties from Greggs, or trying to be “man of the people” by eating a bacon sarnie from the local cafe. It hypocrisy of the highest order.

    His time would be better used by actually coming up with some policies.

  15. John Reid says:

    Before I stop blogging, I’ve hears that a leading progress member may oust Ed if Labour win!!, who is I Rachel Reeves, Burnha, balls?

    For the record if Labour lose, rather than Stella Creasey, or Chuka, I think, think the dream ticket, would be Cruddas with John Mann as deputy

  16. Landless Peasant says:

    Miliband is bloody hopeless. I could forgive him for being a nerd if he had some real Socialist policies. He doesn’t acknowledge the true cause of Foodbanks, instead he continues to support Benefit Sanctions and seems to also support Workfare. He’s said nothing about the Working Class being heavily short-changed of their State Benefits contrary to the Council of Europe. He’s said nothing about IDS repeatedly lying and flouting the Law. He’s said nothing about saving both the NHS and the Economy in one fell-swoop via the legalization of Cannabis. If he just addressed the few important things I have mentioned he would win the next Election hands-down.

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