“Decisions are made by those who show up.”
It’s unclear who was the first to utter these words, but they’re often attributed to Aaron Sorkin, the writer of The West Wing.
The quotation came to mind as I read Rafael Behr’s profile of the Labour leader in the Guardian. In what could prove to be the most important piece of journalism to emerge from the election campaign, Behr tells the story of the wrong brother, the surplus-to-requirements Miliband who showed up anyway – and kept on showing up no matter what was thrown at him.
The tale begins with an appropriately dismal scene – a gathering of Gordon Brown’s team on the day that David Cameron became Prime Minister:
“Members of the No 10 staff toasted the end of an era in a room upstairs at the Old Star, a low-ceilinged Victorian box in Westminster. Everyone was exhausted, haggard, looking forward to a summer of decompression. For three years, Downing Street under Brown had been a sleepless bunker, powered by the tyrannical rages of a mortally wounded prime minister and the tribal loyalty of his ministers and advisers.
“At the wake, only Ed Miliband seemed to have reserves of energy. He trotted up to Stewart Wood and asked him round to his house the following morning to talk.”
Stewart Wood – now Baron Wood of Anfield – is a key Miliband advisor and intellectual soul-mate:
“…Wood and Miliband talked about Konrad Adenauer and the Christian Democrat tradition that built Germany’s post-second world war economic miracle. They discussed William Howard Taft, Teddy Roosevelt and the US Republican tradition of busting monopolies – the right’s own, neglected tradition of confronting runaway corporate power. The buccaneering winner-take-all form of Anglo-American capitalism, in other words, was more negotiable than New Labour had believed.”
With New Labour having died the previous evening, Ed Miliband’s Labour Party was born that morning – and has survived against the odds to the present day.
It is at once revealing and ridiculous to see Miliband compared with the heroes of progressive conservatism. (Miliband’s own label for his project – One Nation Labour – evokes another such hero, Benjamin Disraeli.)
On the one hand, it reveals a clear sense of mission:
“…for his small band of trusted advisers, it has been a triumph of intellectual consistency over political volatility. They see a potential prime minister whose platform is a concrete extension of the idea that brought them together in 2010: a belief that Labour could win without compromising its historic determination to fashion a more equal society.”
But on the other hand, Miliband is clearly no Adenauer, no Roosevelt, no Disraeli. For all the intellectual pretensions, what’s on offer isn’t a radical reform of crony capitalism, but a protection racket to squeeze a bit more money out of it.
Nevertheless, some of the policies to emerge from this project – such as the freeze on energy prices, the mansion tax and the abolition of non-com tax status – are sufficiently bold to show up on the radar of public opinion. Their technical shortcomings may be many and various, but they do at least form a coherent pattern – in contrast to the chop-and-change of the Conservative message.
There’s been a presentational consistency too – with Ed Miliband leading from the front throughout. His lackadaisical shadow cabinet having left him no other option, there’s been little lying low for the Labour leader. In this respect, he’s quite unlike his old boss, Gordon ‘Macavity’ Brown, not to mention David ‘above the fray’ Cameron or George Osborne, the ‘submarine Chancellor’.
Last Thursday, in the final leaders’ debate, Ed Miliband showed up again – in obvious contrast to the Conservative and Lib Dem leaders. The cynical calculation from CCHQ was that the more that voters saw of Miliband, the less they’d like him. But while they still like him less than Cameron, they’re coming round.
Unless something changes fast, he could be showing up in Downing Street next month.