Ed Miliband has had a Christmas to forget. A series of gaffes have fermented pre-Christmas critical rumblings into a particularly distasteful cocktail of dissent. Several unions, one unruly peer, two racial slip-ups and a distinctly average set of public performances have conspired to cause him undue woe. And a great deal of it is due to a seemingly confused communications strategy. Fishing in the dark has never been more relevant. If a PR agency had committed and presided over the sort of gaffes that have taken place since Christmas Day then you’d expect a swift termination of contract to be followed by PR Week advertising for accomplished crisis management agencies to send their credentials ASAP to The Rt Hon. Ed Miliband, House of Commons, SW1A 0AA.
Before Christmas he was holding it together, just about. It is well documented that he lacks certain presentation skills, but he does have strengths, which he was playing to: he comes across as impassioned and caring with a strong handle on policy. He may not appear a natural leader at times, but by accident or design this has actually troubled David Cameron. In the cauldron of PMQs David Cameron’s polished put downs have given rise to accusations of a bullying and angry style, which is not Prime Ministerial.
Playing to these strengths, putting in a solid lent term of public performances and solidifying his Cabinet and policy direction seemed like the natural order of business for 2012. Consolidate and build.
But, Team Miliband had an ‘edgy’ moment around Christmas. Rather than regrouping under the radar and picking holes in the Cameron machine, responding to a packed and difficult news calendar for the Government in Q1 2012, they decided to play David Cameron at his own game in the New Year. They wanted to artificially create an equivalent of Cameron’s ‘Conference moment’ to dispel any doubts about Ed.
The Miliband media team put out the news that the Leader of the Opposition was gearing up for a major speech (or relaunch) in the New Year and a string of public performances. They then prepped the media, told the Government to listen up and turned the spotlight over to Ed.
And sadly there has been no way back. Problems began when the much-vaulted major speech was delayed, lacked originality and the set up highlighted Ed’s oratorial weakness. Bit of a non-event, not helped by the BBC calling him David Miliband.
Oh dear, and now there was no way to turn off the spotlight. Shortly afterwards one of his own Peers called him c**p and Diane Abbot began a race row on Twitter. In an ironic twist Ed then mistweeted at exactly the wrong time, ushering in Blackbustersgate.
Now the media were on the hunt for blood, Miliband was weak, And the organised publicity just made things worse, he was ill-prepared for a Today Programme interview with John Humphries; asked an ill-advised question at PMQs, which backfired embarrassingly and he then decided to start a fight with the unions, who are feeling more militant than ever.
All of this at a time when the Government’s Health and Welfare Bills are struggling, one of their MPs was caught in a very public and embarrassing stag do controversy and Europe is on the brink. David Cameron may well still be chuckling. Miliband seems one slip-up away from finishing his act early and letting the final curtain fall.
If only Ed could go back a month. But sadly he has found out that 24 hours is a long time in politics and a month can be transformational.
And I don’t blame Ed. At a time when Nick Clegg alone has 7 special advisers each on £68,000 you feel that the Labour party should be able to turn out a stronger policy, strategy and communications team than they have. This team have made basic mistakes on all fronts: mistweeting; poorly researching questions for Prime Minister’s Questions; organising big set-piece public speeches, when Ed’s strengths lie elsewhere and choosing his nadir as the right time to attack the organisations who paid for his leadership campaign, helped him best his brother and have spent all autumn spoiling for a fight.
It is a sorry state of affairs and one that could surely be used as a ‘what not to do’ case study for many agencies. Ed Miliband, who by all accounts make a big impression when people meet him face-to-face needs some emergency communications help because If they thought he was in a hole before Christmas then 2012 has delivered a crater.