If you were to search up the word ‘charismatic’ on the internet, a picture of Mr Ed Miliband is unlikely to make the hit list, something that has been well-documented in the press since his ascension to the Labour leadership in 2010. Nonetheless, as we enter the New Year, the 2015 election edges closer, and a large proportion of votes cast will be decided by the performance and personalities of the party leaders. As it stands, that pits Miliband against the government incumbents David Cameron and Nick Clegg. If we trace our minds back to the election of 2010, one will note that the charisma of the respective leaders had a major impact on the final election results. Mr Clegg saw a significant surge in Liberal Democrat favour after glowing leadership debate performances, and the youthful exuberance of David Cameron won many plaudits and votes, appearing more personable than the departing Gordon Brown. Brown’s successor at the top of the Labour party has thus far won little less favour with the press in terms of charisma points, which does create a problem for 2015. Nasal-voice, ‘geekiness’, weakness, and lack of likeability have been popular criticisms of Ed’s persona by the media and the electorate, while Cameron maintains his reputation as a figure of magnetism, and ergo still polls ahead of Mr Miliband, despite Labour’s lead over the Tories in party polling.
My question is; since when did the general election become a personality contest? I ask the electorate; who would they rather have running our country – a man of incompetence but personality, or a man lacking in personality but possessing competence (not necessarily a reference to Cameron and Miliband I should note)? Just where has the charisma of Clegg and Cameron got us in 4 years? Clegg proved to be a flash in the pan, a man in ample supply of the gift of the gab, but in severe shortage of principles and vertebrae. Cameron meanwhile has swayed with the wind. He caved in to rowdy backbenchers on an EU referendum, he dramatically shifted right on issues like immigration in response to the rise of UKIP, he backed away from plain cigarette packaging after going in to cahoots with Lynton Crosby, he promised to tackle the issue of cheap alcohol increasing alcoholism a week before knocking a penny off the pint to hush a brewers pressure group, he swore to preserve the NHS before setting it on the course of further privatisation, he U-turned on energy prices and pay-day loans in the face of growing popularity for Labour positions on the issues, and ultimately abandoned his most prominent election promises like ‘Vote Blue, Go Green’ and the so-called ‘Big Society’. What cannot be overlooked is Cameron’s principled stance on gay marriage, this was an admirable pursuit, however in terms of a display of principled conviction it lies in isolation in his premiership. All this is to say that for all the charisma of David Cameron, he – like Nick Clegg – lacks the most vital ingredient of any good politician let alone Prime Minister; principles. Strong principles and the conviction to stand by them in governance is a dying attribute in Westminster, and even more so in Whitehall. Long past are the days of MPs as strong-willed and principled of the class of Tony Benn, and those that could be deemed truly principled MPs in the 21st century form a short list, containing the likes of Robin Cook, George Gallaway and Caroline Lucas.
Voter turnout is at an all-time low in Britain, public opinion of Parliament is ever more scathing, and recent polls have shown voter apathy owes more to anger with MPs than boredom. Politician scandals continue with worrying frequency, from sex abuse accusations and speeding convictions in the Liberal Democrat party, to further astounding expense revelations and the ‘Pleb-gate’ affair in the Conservative party, to Lords misdemeanours and a criminal conviction for a guilty expense abuser in the Labour Party. Is it any wonder faith in party politics is so low? Parliament is facing a crisis, a principle crisis. The upstanding members of society that we elect to represent our interests in the legislature have time and again showed a complete lack of principles, and it is principles that the electorate is screaming out for, that it so desperately needs in its politicians. That is exactly why Ed Miliband is the right man for the Prime Ministerial job. He may not be a man of shining personality or captivating charisma, but he is a man of unquestionable principle. This is a man who strongly opposed the Iraq War, a man who showed loyalty to his leader Gordon Brown even when there was growing encouragement for a coup within the Labour party, a man who has admitted and apologised for several mistakes made during New Labour’s reign in power, a man who has proven unafraid of standing by his morals and standing up to powerful institutions like the Daily Mail and the ‘Big 6’ energy companies. He is a rare breed of politicians, one who is truly in politics to try and make a positive change, one who always votes with his conscience, and one who truly believes in what he says.
If elected, Ed Miliband will prove to be a very different Prime Minister to David Cameron. He may not appear as slick or comfortable in front of the television cameras, but you can bet your bottom dollar that he will follow through on his promises at least 9 times out of 10. With Miliband, you know what you will be getting. Unlike Clegg on tuition fees and Cameron on the environment, Miliband will not be so likely to renege on manifesto promises; he just isn’t built that way, his principled view of politics makes him more inclined to deliver on what he promises and less likely to readily let down those who put their faith in him. If you were to compare the statute book under the current government with the promises made in the 2010 manifestos of the 2 leading parties, or even with the coalition programme made in 2010, you will find major disparities. The current government is led by 2 men who have broken promise after promise, and compromised on their (supposed) principles time and again. With Miliband, it could be a whole different story. He certainly has a flash of Old Labour about him – likely thanks to his Marxist father and the early influences on his life like Tony Benn – but this is what gives him his greatest asset. Old Labour were always more concerned with sticking to their principles than winning elections, a philosophy abandoned by New Labour, but one seemingly maintained by the current Labour leader. This is the advantage Miliband enjoys over his adversaries, by possessing a strong moral compass and standing by what he believes in, he provides the electorate with a trust-worthy leader in times of financial uncertainty and a cost-of-living crisis.
Ed Miliband has a clear vision for the future, of a fairer Britain. He offers the electorate direction, reachable goals, and a leader who won’t be afraid of standing up to powerful vested interests in favour of Mr and Mrs Average Joe. Most importantly, he offers something the other party leaders have proved incapable of; he offers them a leader with principles and convictions who will stand by them beyond Election Day and follow through on his promises. This is exactly why Ed Miliband is the right man for the job, so in 2015, when you find yourself at the ballot box, after watching the buzz and excitement of the election campaigns, the political party broadcasts and the leadership debates, ask yourself, beyond all the sparring and the publicity stunts, when it comes down to choosing the person to lead your country, would you prefer a leader with charisma, or a leader with principles? I know which one I’d choose.