Taking a view on Ed Milliband’s first speech as leader of the Labour Party, I was reminded of John Terry’s “I’m going to have a word with the manager” press conference, delivered when the wheels were coming off the World Cup bogey. Not a natural Labour voter, to be sure. In his own mind JT- as he is undoubtedly known - was displaying leadership.
He was doing no such thing. Usurping his team captain, undermining his manager, sticking a finger or two up at the FA, and fingering colleagues without their consent was what he did. Plainly, as he was the only decent centre back walking on two legs, and his manager was under siege, his stunt was nothing less than naked opportunism. He should have been sent home and the team would have been no worse for it: he might have been if a few fit defenders were available.
John Terry’s opportunistic behaviour was hardly exceptional, for him. You would be surprised if he did anything else. He is a particular type of leader and his personal and emotional deficits can be set against what he does on the football field. Like him or not, if you are a centre forward you are not keen to play against him.
But what about Ed Milliband? Should he be coming from the JT school of Leadership? I think not. So what of the first platform speech of the new Labour Leader, his first shot at showing us what he is made of? I was not impressed. Not for any superficial reasons of style. There are a lot of things that can be forgiven on that score because he is young and he is new: the slightly startled look that reveals it is all still a bit of a shock; the inability to rouse the audience into a frenzy; the cheesy personal stuff that should only be there when contextually relevant; the meandering on policy.
That was all fine, for now. There is one thing that might come back to haunt him, though. Not with die-hard Labour supporters, but with people in the real world: what he said about the war in Iraq. You might think he was unequivocal about it and that it was an easy win both inside the conference centre and out in the country: he said his party was wrong to go to war.
Well, not so fast.
Was the war wrong from the outset? Or was the war wrong because no WMD were found? If it’s the latter then very few would argue with him (but at the time everyone who was anyone thought Saddam had them, and many reckoned he would use them). If it’s the former then he was obviously always against it, but took a nice wedge for quite a while, and developed a blossoming career, in a government he fundamentally disagreed with over the war in Iraq. Nice one Ed.
Just like Big John, this had little to do with leadership: it was opportunism, or positioning if you want to be polite. Of course Ed had to break with the past and the mistakes made by his former mentors in over a decade in power. And opportunism can be seen as bravery; taking your chance when it comes (he certainly knows how to do that, and I don’t buy any tosh that he should not have stood against his brother).
By coincidence I was reading A Journey by Blair - the Iraq chapter - when Ed did the dirty at the conference. Whether you like him or not, you would be hard pushed not to recognise a political Leviathan in Blair. By comparison Ed is a pygmy, a small man in a nice suit. It will be interesting to see how, or if, he grows up.
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