Yesterday evening, I shook hands with the man who wants to be our next prime minister. It was a limp, lifeless experience – which unfortunately matched the rather lukewarm status of his opposition party. In just one instant, I understood why Cameron probably isn’t as worried as he should be about keeping his seat at Number 10.
If you take the word of labour politicians at the ‘Friends of Labour’ event yesterday evening, you would think that the 2015 general election hinged directly on the student vote. Harriet Harman, Ed Balls, Ed Miliband and even Victoria Groulef (Labour MP candidate for Reading West) seized the chance to let around a hundred students present at the event know that they were counted on for the upcoming balloting – although many were yet undecided on whether they were going to vote for Labour at all.
Kingston University Labour Society president Sherelle Mattis said has supported Labour all her life, but was unsure whether they would be able to fulfil all of the electoral promises that they had put forward for next year. “I know that it will take a lot to reverse what the Tories have been doing and what they plan to do this year. I just don’t know if he is the man for the job,” she said.
Ed Miliband has a fundamental flaw in his logic – in that the ‘Friends of Labour’ aren’t really quite the same as the ‘friends of Ed’. Although he might have been voted as leader of the Labour party he has yet to win the nation’s hearts, despite standing up against many key issues proposed by Cameron in Parliament.
True, he argued against the invasion of Syria, he clamoured for justice against News International during the phone-hacking scandal and he has backed an alternative plan to solve the energy crisis. But none of these things have been an immediate gut reaction from him or his cabinet ministers – it was a waiting game until there was absolute certainty about public support. Cautious? Yes. Leadership material? Not really.
Huma Sharif, a student present at the event, said that she supports some of what Labour is saying, but is motivated by her dislike of David Cameron rather than the policies they back. “I thought Ed Miliband looked a lot better in person [than on TV],” she said. “I’ll vote for him in the next elections, I think.”
Standing around the packed room, it was clear when the famous cabinet members made an appearance. The crowd surged forward to form a tight-knit semi-circle around the two podium boxes where they made their speeches.
Harman, Balls and a score of other MPs took the opportunity to ask students to vote for them as they milled around the room, waiting for Miliband himself to explain that from now on we will be hearing “many things about the Labour Party from the Tories” but all part of campaigning – because apparently students aren’t too young to vote, but are too young to understand how mud-slinging works in campaigns.
It was hard not to notice that the one that laughed the loudest at his digs towards the conservative party was his own PR. At times, the inedible spicy chicken on a stick was easier to swallow than the Labour message.
Victoria Groulef provided the most groan-worthy moment of the evening, saying that the first thing she wanted to do was to take an Oscars inspired selfie with the crowd, and following with a speech filled with criticisms towards her opposing Conservative candidate and about how politics isn’t about “photo opportunities”. The irony is yet to sink in.
An elderly gentleman with a walking stick parked in the corner by Miliband aides for most of the ceremony emerged as Fred Jarvis, who had been left unattended in the corner only to be applauded for a lifetime of work for the party.
He was also probably the only one in the room without some stake in the outcome of the 2015 elections. And he doesn’t see the future as brightly as the well-polished Shadow cabinet.
“When the election comes along we we’ll lose”, he said with no preamble. “I’m sure there’ll be a coalition government. We will have to be united with the Lib Dems.”
He also expressed his dismay over the new generations of polished politicians that have replaced values with personalities, making voting more of a “popularity contest”.
“People go to the clowns instead of the real candidate who will be able to really represent them,” he says. Prime example for him is current London mayor Boris Johnson. “People vote for him because they think he is funny, not because they think he is clever,” he comments.
Would Labour fare better with another party leader? Perhaps, although prime contenders Harman and Balls have their issues too. New Labour doesn’t seem to be working, with too many people stuck in the middle between the shadow of the old Labour policies and the Conservative trenches.
Perhaps the opposition needs another John Smith – who some people believe would be a better leader of the opposition dead than Miliband is alive – someone who would be able to show up Cameron’s weaknesses instead of battling uphill to prove him wrong at a time when cuts and controversial reform should provide ample opportunities for attack.
Unless Miliband takes off the training wheels and starts showing some personality, his values will mean nothing to today’s voters. Students from across the country were delighted to meet the man who wants to be the UK’s next Prime Minister – let’s hope his political campaign won’t be as forgettable as his handshake.
Creative Commons image by Plashing Vole