There was no position Ed Miliband could have taken yesterday that would have pleased anyone. Trapped between the powerful right wing media, still trying to define him to the country as Scargill Mk II and his well meaning but often strategically naive supporters who want to see him marching and shouting, even if that would stop him being able to actually do something in the future. The Twitter echo chamber was resounding in its condemnation of Ed. But in the real world, the conversations I heard about strikes last night probably reflected why Ed felt the need to disassociate himself from them.
There are two problems with what happened yesterday. One was the appalling presentation. The terrible BBC Interview which I described as looking like a hostage video showed a real lack of understanding in Ed’s team about the way media is changing. Ed sounded awful repeating himself and anyone with any knowledge of current media practices and the way news is now being received would have know that focusing on a line for the 6 alone was not going to look good if all you do is repeat yourself. There is an identified training need there, and it will need work over the summer break.
Secondly, Ed needs to reflect on the fact that there are going to be more strikes. These were by unaffiliated unions. The next ones might not be. I understand that he can’t support every strike and I agree that he shouldn’t. But he will find a lot more pressure to support UNITE and UNISON members. In the eyes of the public he needs to find a way to define himself as an arbitrator not an agitator. That won’t please the agitators on Twitter, but little can or will. It’s worth remembering that Twitter can be very self-reinforcing when it comes to a narrative unsupported by external events or opinion – just look at AV.
Yesterday was an attempt at the arbitrator role and I have no doubt it was well meant, but it was done very poorly. Next time a great deal more thought will have to be put into the strategy.
Let me clarify. I supported Ed because I believed then – as I believe now – that he was and is the best candidate for Leader. I have been and remain a strong supporter of his leadership. Crucially, I want his leadership to work. Identifying an area of weakness is not pouncing if the intention is to work to strengthen it. Ed will fight the next general election and I believe he can win it. But we do need to iron out the operation to make this as likely as we can.
Between a rock and a hard places is a terrible place to be. It will take a politician of Ed’s undoubted skills to navigate this better in future.