Vilification of Miliband had reached fever pitch. I wouldn’t vote for him under any circumstances but I’ve never been very keen on character assassination. Yet I don’t think even this is the right term. It’s more like the kind of juvenile facial/voice ridicule that you find in the school playground. The hatred, expressed in comments posted to tabloid stories, has a racial subtext, albeit carefully concealed – North London, Polish, Marxist etc. I’m certainly no Marxist and (no longer) a north Londoner but I have enough similar physical and emotional characteristics, not to sympathise exactly, but, rather, wince, at Miliband’s (entirely self-imposed) predicament.
I don’t much like personality politics. My point is not that personality does not matter. It certainly does. Yet intense derision of public figures too often substitutes informed debate and elevates the opponents of the scorned one unduly. The internet has encouraged a descent into chimney sweep politics. Somehow one feels a crowd could gather in North London and lynch Miliband. It has faint echoes of IS-supporting fanatics gathering to watch an execution.
If Miliband wins, he will be the most abused prime minister in Britain’s modern history. He is neither respected nor popular. Not only do people think he is not up to the job; he has little residual affection even among the party faithful. You often hear people saying that Miliband is the least popular party leader since Michael Foot. Yet old Footie, lampooned though he was as a doddering intellectual, retained a certain affection – in the sense we have for our harmless eccentrics from a bygone era. Going further back, Heath was never liked but people admired his tenacity and purpose, however misplaced. Callaghan was always quite popular personally and, just conceivably, could have won in the autumn of 1978. John Major and Gordon Brown were hailed for their fundamental decency, Thatcher for her unshakable conviction and Blair for his alleged charisma. Neil Kinnock was never seen as statesman-like but retained a certain appeal among Labour voters as a Welsh “boyo” with whom one could chat about rugby. Hague and Ian Duncan-Smith had their detractors but it was based on a suspicion that they lacked the telegenic appeal to cross the threshold, not so much on their incompetence.
If Miliband wins, he will be Britain’s first default prime minister. He will have triumphed only because of a combination of Britain’s screwed electoral system, the divided right-wing vote and an almost intangible dissatisfaction with the performance of Cameron and his crew. Yet there is absolutely no enthusiasm whatsoever for Miliband or what he has to offer. It will be excruciating. If I happen to see him on TV walking up Downing Street on May 8 I shall quickly avert my eyes and hide behind my Sofia sofa. I will be glad to be an expat. I hope we Brits have enough sense to relieve ourselves of this spectacle. Yet also, paradoxically, I hope we will relieve Miliband himself and his family from any more public exposure because I don’t think it will do him or them any good either. And, if Miliband does win, I suspect he could become Britain’s shortest-serving post-war prime minister.