Friday, 8 May 2015

Ed Miliband: A True Inspiration

I watched this speech earlier, and I wept buckets. 

Whatever your party political affiliation. Whatever your beliefs. Whatever your views on what the Labour Party is, was, or could be. I urge you to watch it.

Like most people, when Ed was first elected, I didn't think that much of him. I hadn't followed his leadership election bid as such, so I wasn't subjected to the (frankly ridiculous) assertions that he 'stabbed his brother in the back' by standing against him.

I watched him in his early days, and back when he was still listening to spin doctors, getting things wrong, botching up interviews, having circles talked round him at Prime Minister's Questions. I zoned out of what he was up to for a while.

And then, towards the end of last year, things started changing.

At PMQs, when I saw it, Ed was more sharp. He would land some hits at Cameron and the government. He would ask tough questions, and if Cameron tried to dodge them, he would ask again, until he got an answer, or it was abundantly clear that Cameron was dodging.

I read this article (from a Conservative writer and publication, no less, so it's not as if you'd expect it to be biased in his favour.)
Ed has lead the votes on issues more so than any previous opposition leader. Vetoing military action in Syria, recognising a Palestinian state, taking on Rupert Murdoch's media machine. Opposition leaders rarely win commons votes and Ed has made a habit of doing so.

Then came the Tooting Labour Party dinner, that Mum took me to back in February. Ed was the guest of honour, and as he strode in, he walked tall, and proud. Not cocky, but confident. In a way that was still recognisably the same man I'd seen on TV and yet there was this air about him.
For some reason, being in the same room as he gave his speech, he seemed more articulate. More self-assured. Dare I say it, inspirational.

This, the party's manifesto, and Ed's rhetoric, genuinely convinced me that he was moving the party on from New Labour. That this was a man who would genuinely stand up for working people. The abolition of the bedroom tax, the cutting of tuition fees, the banning exploitative zero hours contracts and unpaid internships, these are all progressive policies that we never would have expected of Labour 5 years ago.

And when the TV debates came, the public started to see Ed for who he was too. He didn't run from them like Cameron did, and when facing off with Paxman, where Cameron looked visibily uncomfortable and shifty, Ed held his own, and even turned the tables once or twice.

As I became more actively involved in the election, canvassing for the Labour Party and going to events, I saw Ed speak in the flesh twice more. At a press conference, and then a rally. At the press conference, even the Guardian and Channel 4 were gunning for him slightly, but Ed answered each question patiently, taking several questions one after the other before answering each in turn.

I watched him at the campaign rally, and he really got us stoked up for the final leg of the campaign.

But there's more to it than that.

Because yes, I identified with his politics. Yes, I believed, (and still do believe) in his vision for a fairer, more just, more equal Britain.

But he is inspiring on a personal level, too.

For nearly five years, Ed has beeen relentlessly bullied and hounded by the press. Primarily a press owned by Rupert Murdoch, and other right-wing news outlets, but these attacks haven't just been political. They've been personal.

Since he won the leadership bid, pretty much all of those papers (and even ones that traditionally back Labour), have directly accused him or implied that he is a back stabber.
They've made fun of his appearance - the fact that he looks vaguely like Wallace.
They've made fun of his voice, because it's slightly nasally.
They've poked fun at him because they happened to snap a picture of him mid-eating a bacon sandwich, when it is phenomenally easy to catch anyone - politician or otherwise - looking silly while eating, and yet it's not stuck to them anything like how it's stuck to him.

The Daily Mail accused his father of "hating Britain", when both his parents had arrived in this country as refugees from the Nazis.

And he has been referred to or implied as 'weak', 'a back-stabber', a 'North London geek', 'a complete waste of space', 'a cad' and countless other highly offensive things.

Ed is a rare breed of politician nowadays. He's a modern intellectual, rather than an 'actor'. To a much higher degree, what you see is what you get - which actually makes him far more genuine.

I, as someone that loves performing, and who aspires to be an actual actor, and am very much one in terms of personality traits. 'Actors' are fairly adept at hiding it when they're under a lot of personal attack and pressure, generally speaking.

And yet were I in his position - hell, I think if most of us, were in his position, we'd be lying on the floor in foetal positions, crying at the torrent of abuse and bile day after day - not just at us, but at our families.

And yet Ed has taken all of it in his stride. He is phenomenally thick-skinned, and he has never let it get to him - certainly, there's been no evidence of it in public.

He is unrepentant, and principled. When he says something, whether that be that Labour didn't spend too much (they didn't), or that the UK contributed somewhat to the crisis in Libya, he has not gone back on it. There are plenty of people who'd be apologising and repenting over making statements as controversial, or contrary to public understanding, as that. But Ed has not done so, not once. Regardless of whether you agree with him on those things or not, that shows he is a man of stubborn principle.

Even when it came to accusations that he would form a coalition with the SNP, once he had ruled that out, he stuck to it. That even annoyed me, and other Labour supporters, as we saw it as his clearest way into government, but he wouldn't budge. And truthfully, I think even if the polls had gone the way we expected them to in this election, he would have kept his word. Co-operating, conversing and compromising with other parties on a vote-by-vote basis (the SNP included) may have been necessary, but I highly doubt he would have signed any official pacts with them.

Ed is a family man, he clearly loves and adores his wife and family. He was asked recently what 'the best thing about being Ed Miliband' was, and he replied:
'Being married to Justine, and having two wonderful boys, Daniel and Sam'.

Now, I know, all male political leaders these days make a thing of being a 'family man', but it struck a chord with me. As did his statement that if it turned out either of his sons were transgender, he would still love them unconditionally. To put this in context, Stonewall, the gay rights group, (the ones behind that 'Some People Are Gay, Get Over It' campaign) only recently extended their remit to campaign for trans rights.

Finally, if we go right back to Ed's student days, then as revealed recently, while he was at Oxford he campaigned against unfair rent increases.

Now, David Cameron, the man Britain has voted back in as Prime Minister, was also at Oxford. But what was Cameron up to when he was there? He was a member of the infamous Bullingdon Club, whose current initiation involves burning a £50 note in front of a homeless person. While there's no evidence to suggest Cameron himself did this, there is evidence that he was part of the club when they smashed a restaurant window in 1987.

So, one was campaigning in small ways for social justice, the other was part of a club that to this day is infamous for flaunting its privilege, and for violent and anti-social behaviour. The latter now leads a government that protects the wealthy few, while cutting benefits for those most in need.

When I look at Ed Miliband now, I see a man that is a true inspiration to me. An underdog, underestimated at every turn, but who rose to the top of the Labour Party, and until late last night, looked very likely to be our next Prime Minister.

He's good humoured, he's resilient, he's principled and pragmatic. He is loving and caring towards his wife and family, and even if he hadn't quite taken the Labour Party right back to where it belonged on the left, he was getting there. And no doubt, had they got into government, and with the pressure from movements from below (that he welcomed), he would have taken it even further as Prime Minister.

The policies he put forward on behalf of the Labour Party, and the fact that he is a bit of an underdog, earnt him an online fanbase of young people normally reserved for singers and actors - never politicians. It makes me burst with pride to have been part of a movement like the #Milifandom. A movement that is sometimes misunderstood or not taken as seriously as it perhaps should, but is fun, amusing, a bit geeky, and a good laugh - just like the man himself.

At heart, Ed is a bit of a geek. Look at his enthusiasm, in the Absolute Radio interview, when talking about Manic Miner. Look at the way, in this interview in The Guardian, he discusses the Manic Miner app for a tablet, lamenting how it isn't true to the original, saying there are too many lives and it's the wrong first level. Pure, unashamed, geekiness. :)

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I perhaps see a bit of myself in Ed Miliband. I know, for those of you that know me, that I probably seem more confident and self-assured, and have always had a certain ease in front of audiences, where Ed perhaps hasn't.

Maybe it's the Jewish heritage. Maybe it's the geekiness. Maybe it's the basic set of values - the desire for a more fair and equal society. Maybe its the love he feels for his family.
Maybe its the solidarity I feel because of having been picked on earlier in my school life for looking a bit weird.

Maybe its the fact that, I feel like if I hadn't gotten properly involved in Drama stuff as early as I did, I would be like Ed Miliband - struggling in such a public field to begin with to make myself seem credible, or tough, or leadership material.

I still believe Ed is all of those things, but I know that a lot of people did not, or still don't - or at least weren't sure.

I am a politics geek to some extent, but I am not a politician. I don't have ambitions to be an MP or Prime Minister. If I was to to end up in a career relating to politics I think I'd prefer be more of an Owen Jones type.

But that doesn't mean I don't feel genuinely inspired by someone like Ed Miliband.

He had his faults - he didn't propose as coherent an alternative to the other small left-wing parties. He and Labour aligned themselves with the Tories and Lib Dems over the Scottish referendum, rather than setting up their own separate campaign. He didn't lead Labour enough to effectively tackle the Tory myth that they spent too much last time they were in goverment, nor did he point out enough that the Tories backed every one of Labour's spending plans until the financial crash, and the Tories were actually calling for less bank regulation in the run up to it.
He didn't find a way of showing commitment to gaining a Labour majority, while not seeming arrogant about possibly having to progressively work with other parties (which, short of the result going in the complete opposite direction last night, is what would have been necessary).

But nevertheless, he begun the process of moving Labour back to the left, and the rhetoric and core message was a clear and good one: That Britain only suceeds when working people suceed.
It's now important that those of us who did support Labour (or a Labour-led government, at least) do not wallow in our disappointment. To keep fighting for that better society. To protest the Tory cuts, to do our utmost to look after each other and the most vulnerable who'll be hit heaviest in the next five years.

It is to be hoped that Labour doesn't elect a Blairite now, and realises that their faults were more incoherences, and not being radical enough, rather than being too radical.
They still ran a good, (essentially) positive campaign, and their defeat was as much from Tory scaremongering, tabloid smear and Shy Toryism as anything else.

Labour has lost a great leader today. I am thankful he will still be serving his constituency in Doncaster, and hope he receives another ministerial job in the next Labour government - he is a credit to his party.

Here's to you Ed Miliband. Long live the Milifandom ;)

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