The response to Ed Miliband’s call for the dismissal of the justice secretary, Ken Clarke, has been almost unanimous. On this week’s Question Time the biggest round of applause came when a member of the audience attacked Miliband for making the issue personal. This suggests that the general public is still highly unsympathetic towards cheap political point-scoring, and that it sees Miliband’s statement as a typical example of this.
Ken Clarke’s comments about rape last week were, of course, serious and needed to be corrected quickly. But essentially they were misconstrued and largely exaggerated by the national media. Sadly, the Labour party leadership jumped all too willingly on the bandwagon. Harriet Harman’s letter to Clarke, published in the Guardian on Monday, was lightweight at best and proved that she did not truly believe there to be an enormous ideological chasm between herself and her addressee.
“You should support, not undermine,” she professed, “the extraordinary and dedicated work of bringing rapists to justice.” I find it difficult to believe that Ken Clarke would have disagreed.
Ed Miliband’s declaration in the House of Commons last week when Clarke’s comments were broadcast on BBC Radio 5 Live that “the justice secretary should not be in his post at the end of today” was rash and intended merely to get one over on the coalition government.
It was exactly the kind of stunt that Miliband promised he would stand above when he became leader of the Labour party. And the simple fact remains, the opposition leader really doesn’t need to get involved in this style of politics. He should, at this point in time, be looking rather to how he can make a strong challenge to David Cameron.
With new figures out this month demonstrating that Britain’s economy has not grown at the rate the coalition were hoping, this would be the perfect time for Miliband to speak up and undermine the economic policies of Cameron and George Osborne. But where is he?
In April, Johann Hari wrote an article in The Independent which highlighted the areas where Ed Miliband needed to improve in order to catch the attention of the British public. Referring to the members of his own family, Hari claimed that Miliband “hasn’t said or done anything that has jutted into their stressed and busy lives”.
And this is the problem. Whether we like it or not, politics is now more than ever a case of getting your voice heard in soundbites, catchy one-liners and emotional appeals. We only need to look as far as the various titles given to the bulk of the British population over the last year to see that attitude in action – “Alarm-clock Britain” and “The Squeezed Middle” are just a couple of the best.
Ed Miliband is doing well in the polls, but he still needs to get himself ‘out there’. He also needs to start talking about his policies. In an article he wrote for the Guardian last week, he began by saying, “I said when I became leader of the Labour party that the first stage of my task was to go out and listen”. I think he has been listening long enough now; it is about time we heard something from him for a change.