Miliband confronted his critics this week, outlining a new direction for the Labor Party in an effort to revitalize his tenure and hold on long enough to challenge Cameron in elections still three years away. He hit some points familiar to Labor’s platform — calling for fairer distribution of wealth and a kinder breed of capitalism. But seemingly parroting Cameron, he is also questioning whether deeply indebted Britain can still afford the old days of big government.
Saying his party would support spending restraint to tackle the deficit, Miliband vowed to “demonstrate once and for all that Labor is a party for all times, not only a party for good times."
Yet the problem, analysts say, is not Labor’s message, but the messenger. Miliband, fairly or not, is being pelted with criticism for everything from his failure to come off as a credible leader to harsh, highly personal attacks in the British news media suggesting he might be “too ugly” to hold Britain’s top job (a nose job to cure his deviated septum apparently did little to help).
Intellectual blood sport
More than anything, though, Miliband has seemed a round short in the intellectual blood sport of British politics, played out weekly on the floor of Parliament where Cameron and Miliband set their wits against each other in terse, often-biting oral combat.
“I think the simplest way of saying it is that most people don’t see him as a prime minister,” said Peter Kellner, president of YouGov, one of Britain’s largest polling firms. “It’s to do with his manner, his lack of experience, the fact that people don’t see a toughness of character in him. People on some level think being prime minister is a man’s job, and in Ed Miliband, they see a boy.”
The son of the noted Marxist academic and Holocaust survivor Ralph Miliband, Ed Miliband, 42, was elected to Parliament just seven years ago, rising fast to the rank of energy and climate-change chief under former Labor prime minister Gordon Brown. In the 2010 contest for the party leadership, Miliband defeated his more seasoned older brother, David Miliband — Brown’s former foreign minister — in large part by currying the support of labor unions.
Now many in the Labor Party appear to be wondering whether they picked the right Miliband. On Ed Miliband’s side is that Labor, unlike its Conservative rivals, has a history of holding on even to unpopular leaders. But internal party criticism about his inability to connect with voters is already coming to the forefront.