Radio4 just told me that Gordon Brown is about to make a speech in London. There are several newsy things about this, not least that he hasn’t made a big speech for years. The other is that he’s going to say how awful Jeremy Corbyn is, presumably because Corbyn actually has some socialist principles while when Ed Milliband was accused of being a socialist by David Cameron he acted as if it actually was an insult and all but said ‘sorry.’
Given that Milliband spent most of the five years he was leader of Labour seemingly determined not to do anything that would in any way resemble contradicting the Tory Party’s policies then the title Leader of the Opposition was always misplaced. The full title was and is Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition; where it went wrong was that it was supposed to mean loyal to the Crown, not to the Prime Minister.
Yvette Cooper is another contender for the leadership of the Labour Party. She got her own little soundbite in the same piece on Radio4 too, explaining that Labour was out there listening to people and ‘trying to understand’ why they lost the General Election.
She also showed again why Labour lost the election and why they deserved to. Gordon Brown was probably the least charismatic figure any party could have chosen as a leader. It wasn’t just that his entire public persona as someone who was barely containing his inner fighty pub drunk wasn’t very attractive to the people who he wanted to vote for him. It wasn’t just that like Callaghan before him, he was supposed to be Prime Minister by inheriting the title and nobody outside the Labour Party thought this was credible. If they did, they hid the fact at election time. It wasn’t even that he got into probably the least edifying public competition with David Cameron ever, both of them doing all but digging-up the tiny corpse and screaming ‘my baby’s deader than your baby.’
More, it was the fact that he was a workplace bully whose behaviour was tolerated and encouraged by a Party who claimed to oppose exactly that behaviour. It was the fact that in selling off gold at its lowest price for years he clearly believed his own nonsensical ‘no more boom and bust’ rhetoric. He did nothing to stop the slide towards privatising the NHS and nothing to stop the City of London rampaging out of control. His Freudian slip when he broadcast that he had ‘saved the world’ rather than bankers and their bonuses, primarily by giving money to banks without any stipulation they should do anything with it other than keep it and count it now and then spoke volumes about his belief in his importance in the scheme of things. And as the 2010 election showed, it was a belief few other people shared. Being unable to win an election against a collection of cartoon characters drawn from the Lord Snooty faction of the Beano illustrates that point better than anything I could write.
Gordon Brown was a joke. Like Bernard Manning, he appealed to some people but from here you can’t really see why. Milliband was too, but like Yvette Cooper, for a different reason. In trying to listen he shows he doesn’t have any principles or policies or passion. Aside from anything else he uses the wrong tools to listen, if that’s really what he wants to do.
Shortly after he became leader, Ed Milliband – or someone paid to pretend to be him – went on Twitter mourning the death of a ‘pollster’ (to use Ed’s own words) who had done sterling work for the Party. Except he hadn’t. He was dead, admittedly, but what his company had produced, recruited, interviewed and reported on were group discussions. Whatever else they’re for, groups are not a snapshot of what people are thinking. They’re done in a hurry and there aren’t enough people talked to that could give a representative idea of what other people think. If you’re interested, group discussions are a great way of generating ideas and discussing things to clarify your own thinking, but they aren’t in any way reliable for polling opinion. Because they aren’t opinion polls. Notwithstanding that a large body of UK market research thinks that two groups (ie about twelve people) can give the answer to anything, (a) they can’t and b) it might have been nice for the dead researcher to have what he did described correctly by the person who wanted to be seen to be paying tribute to him. Assuming he hadn’t described groups as polls himself, of course.
Because I worked in market research at the time I tried to talk to Ed on Twitter about it. He did what he always did in Parliament: stay silent. I thought then and now how pathetic that response was. I wasn’t abusive or rude in any way. I just said that polls are not group discussions and hence the deceased was not a pollster. I didn’t say that calling anyone a pollster is a fairly yucky faux-chuminess that isn’t the best epitaph anyone could wish for, especially as it was wrong anyway. But I might as well have done.
I tried to find the Tweet but it was years ago. I found another more recent one instead, from just before the election.
Ed probably thinks this is fighting talk. This is why he lost. Because like him, it doesn’t say anything that means anything. It’s a silly, irrelevant platitude that can mean anything you want it to mean. It doesn’t just suck up to the Tory line about ‘hard-working families.’ It says nothing about cutting child benefits at all. It says nothing about what if anything he intended to do to help families who aren’t working. It says nothing about creating an economy that creates jobs. Writing this – and let’s assume he did – Milliband could actually have CUT Child Benefit to families who weren’t working and stay true to his word. But first of course, he’d have to have some rubbish research done to see if a few people liked the idea.
Blair turned Labour into an Alice In Wonderland Party where words mean anything you want them to mean. But people outside Parliament don’t think like that. Most people mean what they say. They think about things and put together an idea of how they see the world and how they’d like it to be, then they do what they can to make it that way. What they don’t generally do is keep pestering everyone to find out what other people would like them to think. Because it’s creepy. About as creepy as gurning over a newspaper that despises you, pretending you’d even keep it in the bathroom in case the loo roll ran out.
When the truth is found
There used to be a band called Jefferson Airplane. Their break-through song, White Rabbit, was an acid-drenched soaring scream of wonder about leisure pharmaceuticals, drawing on Lewis Carrol’s Alice adventures. One of the most memorable exchanges in the book was between Alice and Humpty Dumpty. Alice was puzzled about the way that according to Humpty and countless others, words could be made to mean anything you want them to mean. She found this odd and not the case; Humpty disagreed. I often wonder if it was just coincidence that on the very next track on a Jefferson album I have the very next track is “Somebody to Love.” It starts: ‘when the truth is found to be lies.’