Interviewing the ‘Eds of Labour
I managed to (briefly) interview Ed Miliband, Leader of the Labour party, and Ed Balls, the Shadow Chancellor, on their visit to Newcastle-under-Lyme during the local elections.
They arrived with a surprisingly small group of people, and were mostly left to their own devices, trying to ignite some pre-election support. This offered me more opportunity than expected to get in close. Before that though they both gave a brief speech; covering topics from the Leveson enquiry, which had a substantial mention, to a rundown of recent Labour policies.
Milliband spoke first; he came across far better than the media would have you believe. He engaged with the audience, singling out people who had worked tirelessly in the local Election campaign. Although his school disco ‘Are we ready? I can’t hear you!’ jibe was tremendously embarrassing.
It was clear early on that these speeches were being used as a way to score political points against the coalition government. A sizeable amount of attention was drawn to controversial policies such as the so-called ‘Pasty Tax,’ ‘the granny tax,’ and also the tax cuts to 14,000 millionaires.
The remainder of Miliband’s speech focused around communities and the economy. “Labour offers a clear alternative.” he said, “We would tackle the cost of living crisis with an action plan on family budgets, and will get the economy moving with a plan for jobs and growth…Labour representatives are rooted in their local communities and understand the challenges and pressures that families face.”
Milliband made it clear in his speech that Britain’s troubles were due to the government’s lower-class ignorance and “Cameron’s betrayal of hard working families.”
Ed Balls’ speech continued on the same lines, placing emphasis on the ‘With You in Tough Times’ election slogan, speaking about how Labour are with you in your local area and during the recession. He came across as a more natural speaker than Miliband; talking to you rather than at you.
The content of these speeches was high-quality, though taken straight from their Local Election manifesto. However neither brought up any contentious issues, playing it safe even in a room packed with Labour supporters. No mention was given to Miliband’s low opinion ratings or the double-dip recession.
After their speeches they mingled with the crowd and I managed to enamour them with a simple question. Why should students and young people care about the Local Elections? And why should they vote Labour? Neither answered the first part at all but they did give several reasons as to why students should choose their party.
Ed Balls seemed more composed, eager to answer the question though Miliband became more passionate as his argument got going.
The key point in Miliband’s argument was the raising of tuition fees by the coalition to £9,000, how the Conservatives are out of touch with the struggles that young people face in education, and in the employment market. He drew attention to Labour’s pledge to reduce tuition fees to £6,000; a policy that sounds great but one which the NUS believes will not benefit poorer students.
Both mentioned how the Conservatives are giving the rich tax breaks, taking money away from young people and families. And how through Labour young people, University graduates or not, will have a higher chance of finding work, apprenticeships or any form of employment. Balls also spoke about Labour’s policy to end rail rip-offs by capping increases on fares which will aid students travelling to and from their homes.
A couple of handshakes, a few signings, and a few more photos later they had left, continuing along the campaign trail.
During these Elections we have seen Labour rise to an 8point lead with Newcastle-under-Lyme becoming a Labour majority. If the Conservatives are unable to reverse their election troubles it is likely that Ed Miliband will become Britain’s next Prime Minister.
While he impressed me in our brief meeting he still seemed ‘empty’ and lacking leadership qualities, recent opinion polls shows that he is still unable to successfully connect with voters. If he is to succeed Cameron then he has a lot more work to do and a great deal more voters to impress.