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Laura Keynes: Politics by numbers. The full horror of the posturing, box-ticking, platitudinous Miliband

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“He really is awful, isn’t he? He comes across as so managed. Not his own man at all.”

These were the words of a confirmed Labour voter, to me, as we watched Ed Miliband’s televised speech to the Labour party conference. Even Ed Miliband’s own supporters cringe when he speaks.

“So why are you going to vote for him then?” I asked.

“Well, it’s a vote for the party, not the leader. It’s a tribal thing.”

That’s precisely the problem with Ed Miliband. He knows he can rely on tribal loyalty, so he ticks the boxes one by one. So much of being on the Liberal-Left seems to be about self-identifying as such, saying ‘I’m the kind of person who holds a certain number of right-on attitudes about issues such as immigration, gay rights, feminism, and the NHS.’ What matters, therefore, is being seen as someone who knows the right noises to make at the right time; being seen to be part of the tribe and signalling it to others, for their approval.

Ed Miliband excels at saying the obvious thing at the obvious time. It’s as if he’s a puppet, managed from above, clumsily on cue. His speech, utterly unimaginative as it was, ticked off all the things that tribal Labour voters want to hear. Working classes? Check. Sticking it to the man? Check. The welfare state? Check. Evil Tories? Check. Benefits of immigration? Check. It’s politics by numbers. Miliband knows that all he has to do is make the right noises about the NHS and people will start cheering.

It’s lazy of him, and – even worse – it assumes a lazy electorate. It doesn’t encourage people to think, or to question, but to respond on cue like so many Pavlovian dogs. But that’s exactly what Labour needs if they’re to gain power – an electorate who won’t ask too many awkward questions about things like the effect of health tourism on the NHS, or the effect of mass immigration on schools and education. What Labour needs is an electorate who’ll willingly forget that the management structure and target culture destroying the NHS are structures of the Left.

Are voters going to fall for it this time around? The rise of Ukip suggests that old tribal loyalties are splitting; people won’t be fobbed off by platitudes anymore. Voters are waking up to the idea that social justice might not be the exclusive preserve of the Left, as Red Ed would have us all believe. At least, that’s if the country hasn’t been put to sleep by Miliband’s clunky political speeches first.

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Laura Keynes
Laura Keynes
Dr Keynes is a Cambridge-based academic, writer and critic with two very young children. She writes for Standpoint magazine, the Catholic Herald and The Tablet. Find her on twitter @LMKeynes.

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