Strange beasts and things. Politicians and their Pas: public appearances. They’re supposed to be of the people and from the people but both come shrouded in mystery. So, for new Labour Party Leader Ed Miliband and his carefully orchestrated visit to the Herbert Art Gallery last Friday. I got the whispers on the grapevine twenty four hours before when the political editor of the Coventry Telegraph, Les Reid called me and asked me to help him get an audience. I did my best. It was to be a public meeting but one to which the public were invited individually; Back to front.
On the day itself, we had to be seated ready fifteen minutes before corralled in by the Labour spin machine. The setting was deliberate with the background to Ed dressed with young people, black people and female people. Right there in the covered court of the Herbert next to the local history section but away from the art of Banksy tucked upstairs. Writes John Mair…
The audience, such as it was, had the sad look of a defeated rag bat army. Older, working class traditional Labour voters all looking for a new messiah to lead them back to the promised land of power. A smattering of MPs: front Row Bob Ainsworth MP six months ago her Majesty’s Secretary of State for Defence .Today a face in the crowd. Jim Cunningham MP too (but no Geoffrey Robinson to complete the Coventry trio) and Michael Cashman MEP. Then HE came in with purple (not red) tie and a smart suit fitted up with a radio mike ready for action. His advance guard had done their work well and all was ready for the leader.
More attractive in real life than on the telly, Miliband very sensibly kept his opening speech short and humble “We lost the election and we lost it badly. We need to blame ourselves” he declared before launching into an attack on the Osborne spending cuts of the days before. The defeated Labour army lapped it up as did they when he took and answered audience questions even managing to make sense of a train spotter one about local rail services by relating it back to his Doncaster constituency.
‘Ask Ed Miliband in Cov’ was impressive but contrived. The whole show meant to look like a spontaneous version of ‘Question Time’. Labour and the other political parties are petrified of the public (and after Gillian Duffy did for Gordon in Rochdale in the General Election even more so!!)But should there not be a new politics? Less stage management and more life in these public events? We have a brain. Let us use it, please.