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Saturday, September 29, 2012

Ed Miliband's big test is to make voters see him as prime minister | Andrew Rawnsley

He can't do anything about the way he looks, but he can do something about the way he talks to the country

Call it the "close your eyes test". The challenge faces every leader of the opposition. Whether or not they pass is invariably crucial to their eventual success or failure. Can voters close their eyes and imagine this person standing on the threshold of Number 10 telling the country that Her Majesty has just invited them to form a government? So when Toby Helm, our political editor, and I went to interview Ed Miliband for today's Observer, I asked the Labour leader whether he thought people saw him as a future prime minister. After a pause, he replied: "Well, that's for them to decide", a response that did not ooze confidence.

His aides protest that it is always hard to look prime ministerial until you are actually prime minister and some of his personal ratings are at least heading in the right direction as voters and commentators, some of whom originally and foolishly wrote him off as a Labour version of Iain Duncan Smith, reassess his qualities. Though still negative, his net approval rating on the YouGov tracker has improved 31 points since mid-January while David Cameron has slumped by 25. "The more people get to see of Ed, the more they like him," says one of his senior staff, though it could be that the converse is the more important dynamic: the more people see of David Cameron, the less they like him.

People may be warming to the Labour leader, but when asked whether he looks prime ministerial, the answer from our opinion poll today is a big, rude raspberry. On several of the key qualities that voters look for in a leader, he is rated very poorly. Only 28% of respondents can imagine him as prime minister; 63% cannot. That is a bad fail of the "close your eyes test".

This encourages Tories to believe that, for all the difficulties of the coalition and despite the severe decline in their man's personal ratings, they can win the next election by making it as presidential as possible. Their plan is to try to brand the Labour leader as too weird and too left wing to put inside Number 10. In some ways, as he remarks in our interview, this is rather flattering. Tory propagandists would not be personally targeting him if they did not take the idea of Prime Minister Miliband seriously. You also have to wonder what leaking their scheme says about their judgment. If you plan a surprise attack it is usually thought best to, well, keep it a surprise. Personal campaigns against opponents have a record of backfiring because voters decide it says more about the nastiness of those doing the attacking than it does about the object of the attack. Mr Miliband might also take some encouragement from the fact that previous Tory efforts to define him negatively have not been terribly effective. The "Red Ed" tag that they tried to stick to him when he first became leader never really caught on.

That said, important members of the shadow cabinet think he would be unwise to be complacent. Mr Miliband is just about old enough to remember how the Tories, in co-ordination with the right-wing tabloids, turned the public images of Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock into Worzel Gummidge and the Welsh Windbag. Tabloid power has been diluted by the growth of new media, but ferocious press attacks can still have a destabilising, demoralising and debilitating effect.

The Labour leader is additionally vulnerable because to much of the electorate he is still largely a blank canvas. Some voters may be aware that he is the son of Jewish refugees from the Nazis, a story he has often told. There was that bit of confusion about whether or not he was going to get married and, for many voters, that and beating his brother is probably the sum total of their knowledge about the man who would be their next prime minister. How to convey his personality to the public has been intensely preoccupying his circle in the run-up to his conference speech. There are certain things he can do nothing about. As he has said himself, if you asked spin doctors to design the perfect leadership candidate, they would not come up with Ed Miliband. Image-makers would probably describe something like Mitt Romney, which goes to show that having presidential teeth and hair is not the same as being presidential.

The Labour leader cannot help coming over as agreeable, idealistic, a bit pointy headed and rather earnest, because that is what he is. Much of his summer holiday on a Greek island was spent reading books of social and economic theory. He has invited an American political philosopher, Michael Sandel, to address the conference. He will never be convincing as the blokey candidate with whom you'd most like to share a pint. He is a career-long member of the professional political class. He read PPE at Oxford, worked with me on a politics programme on Channel 4, landed a job as a special adviser, took a sabbatical at Harvard when working with Gordon Brown and Ed Balls became just too much, returned to Britain to be guided into a safe seat and not long after was in the cabinet.

True enough, the state educated him, in Leeds and then at Haverstock comprehensive in north London, a contrast with David Cameron that I expect to be highlighted in his speech. But in its way his childhood was as rarefied as that of the Tory leader. Not many people grow up in a household in which the most famous intellectuals of the left gather around the kitchen table. He cannot claim to be another Abe Lincoln, rising to greatness from log cabin poverty. In a nice irony, thanks to the London property boom, the Miliband brothers inherited a tidy windfall from their Marxist father.

The sort of stunts performed by previous leaders of the opposition – Tony Blair doing headers with Kevin Keegan, David Cameron riding with huskies in the Arctic Circle – won't work for him. We are now familiar enough with such manipulations to have become suspicious of them and anyway there would be a high risk of him looking like a prat. So his best bet is to attempt to flip the flaws in his image into an advantage. The earnestness and wonkishness at least suggest an authenticity that might be contrasted with the sort of slickeries practised by David Cameron en route to power.

And there are things that he can do something about. One is to make speeches in plainer English. His interest in ideas is an attractive quality, but when he rises to speak on Tuesday it will be essential that he does not talk as though he were addressing a thinktank. Concepts such as "predistribution" are stimulating, even potentially popular if turned into practical policies. This year's speech, like last year's, will focus heavily on "responsible capitalism", but it will only win him a hearing among mainstream voters if it is expressed in clear, engaging and populist language. Mrs Thatcher read Hayek, but she did not often quote him when she was trying to get votes. She instead told audiences that she would sell them their council houses.

What should most worry Mr Miliband is how few voters think he is capable of making a tough decision. I am sure he would protest that this is not fair. Did he not stand against his own brother for the leadership? Did he not show cojones when he led the condemnation of Rupert Murdoch? And now, in our interview, he issues a drastic ultimatum to the banks. The public is not convinced. Just 14% of the respondents to our poll rate him "able to take tough decisions". That could be in part because they sense that he picks relatively easy targets. No one in the Labour party is going to be upset when their leader attacks News Corp or the City. One way to go about persuading the electorate that he is steely enough for the job would be to pick some battles with his party, but he has rejected that Blair model of how to define your leadership. We have yet to see in him a capacity to challenge labour's ideological comfort zones or to take an unpopular position because he believed it to be right.

This weakness matters greatly because it is closely enmeshed with whether voters will be prepared to trust the nation's finances to Labour. Mr Miliband can say that he recognises that a Labour government would have to operate under tight fiscal restraints. To convince the voters that he means it, they really have to believe that, when Prime Minister Miliband is confronted by unexpected crises, protesting crowds, demanding trade unions or stroppy colleagues, his first instinct will not be to deal with problems by throwing at them money that the country does not have.

He has passed some of the early tests of being leader of the opposition and done so more effectively than critics and even some friends expected when he first became Labour leader. Now comes the challenge of persuading the country that he could be its next leader. By the end of his speech, he needs more people to be able to close their eyes and think of Prime Minister Miliband. It would help if they quite liked the idea too.


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Greeks Abroad Move Closer to Voting Right


Greeks Abroad Move Closer to Voting Right
Greek Reporter
Greek Minister of Interior Euripidis Stylianidis said he is ready to put a bill before Parliament that would give Greeks around the world the right to vote in Greek elections, which could add several million eligible voters, according to the newspaper ...


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General Strike in Greece Says "We Won't Submit!"


NPR

General Strike in Greece Says "We Won't Submit!"
Truth-Out
Greece. Protesters march and shout slogans during a demonstration against austerity measures in Athens, Greece, September 26, 2012. (Photo: Angelos Tzortzinis / The New York Times)Greek workers carried out a 24-hour general strike this week as 50,000 ...
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Greece sure to get next aid tranche: German magazines


Heritage.org (blog)

Greece sure to get next aid tranche: German magazines
Chicago Tribune
BERLIN (Reuters) - Greece will receive its next tranche of international aid despite budget shortfalls and slow progress on reforms because the euro zone does not want the country to leave the common currency, two German magazines reported on Saturday.
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Greeks Battle To 'Survive' Amid New Budget Proposal


NET Website

Greeks Battle To 'Survive' Amid New Budget Proposal
NET Website
The government is set to present a new austerity budget Monday to please lenders that are saving it from bankruptcy. Greeks, meanwhile, are getting desperate in the fifth year of a deep recession. Some struggle to make ends meet for their families and ...
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Demonstrations in Greece


Demonstrations in Greece
USA TODAY
A firebomb explodes behind a Greek riot police officer during a battle with demonstrators in Athens. Thousands of people angry at a new round of government austerity measures staged a 24-hour general strike. Aris Messinis, AFP/Getty Images. Related ...


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Fran├žois Hollande opts to punish French rich with €20bn of new taxes


France's Socialist government insisted yesterday that it could solve the conundrum of simultaneous deficit-cutting and growth which has eluded every other European country from Greece to Britain.



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Go to Greece This Autumn


Go to Greece This Autumn
The Herald | HeraldOnline.com
Anyone looking to book a late deal or just a low-season deal might wish to head to Greece this autumn. Not only does the country boast a great climate of fantastic clear blue skies and glorious sunshine during this time of the year, but the country is ...

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Celebrating Greek heritage, cuisine: Local church's fall food festival brings ...


Citizens Voice

Celebrating Greek heritage, cuisine: Local church's fall food festival brings ...
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Organizers of the upcoming Fall Greek Food Festival at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, 32 E. Ross St., Wilkes-Barre, have shared one of their favorite ethnic recipes for homemade baklava - a rich, sweet pastry made of layers of phyllo pastry filled ...
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Ron the Greek returns to action at Belmont


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Ron the Greek returns to action at Belmont
Ocala
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Greek Premier Sees Hope, but Only if Europe Helps


New York Times

Greek Premier Sees Hope, but Only if Europe Helps
New York Times
ATHENS — He waited his whole life for this moment, and many European leaders see him as Greece's last best hope for stability. But for Antonis Samaras, leading his country is no fun at all. “Do you think anyone can be happy being prime minister of ...
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As Spain and Greece Burn, Estonia Offers a Lesson


Heritage.org (blog)

As Spain and Greece Burn, Estonia Offers a Lesson
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Over the past few days, new strikes and riots have convulsed Greece and Spain. Conventional wisdom (including from economist Paul Krugman) suggests that cuts in government spending—often described as “austerity”—are a primary cause of the economic ...
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Greek Leader, Samaras, Sees Hope, if Europe Helps

In an interview, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras of Greece said there is “zero risk” that Greece will leave the euro, but warned of growing unrest in Europe.


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Tsipras: Help Greece like postwar Germany


Greek Reporter

Tsipras: Help Greece like postwar Germany
UPI.com
28 (UPI) -- Cut Greece's debt in half like Germany's was after World War II, Greece's opposition leader said, after Athens agreed to more lender-imposed austerity measures. The increasing austerity is leading to "the collective suicide of the Greek ...
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Hollande opts to punish French rich with €20bn of new taxes


France's Socialist government insisted yesterday that it could solve the conundrum of simultaneous deficit-cutting and growth which has eluded every other European country from Greece to Britain.



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New Study Blames Greek Debt Crisis on Market's Invisible Herd


Wired

New Study Blames Greek Debt Crisis on Market's Invisible Herd
Wired
A new analysis of the Greek debt crisis claims to have quantified what many people intuitively believed: That a spike in debt prices in 2011 didn't reflect a rational market appraisal of the country's economy, but a panic that worsened an already dire ...


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Jockey Club Gold Cup headlines Belmont's big card


Jockey Club Gold Cup headlines Belmont's big card
Wall Street Journal
Ron the Greek is the 5-2 morning-line choice to rebound off his runner-up finish in the Whitney Handicap, while Flat Out is the 3-1 second choice to win the Gold Cup for the second year in a row. "I'm very pleased with the way both of them are coming ...

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