‘Boo’, ‘hiss’: How a killer snake and public strikes help Ed Miliband
During Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions, Labour leader, Ed Miliband continued his tactic of asking detailed policy questions in an attempt to wrong foot his rival and gain greater leverage for the Labour narrative that the Prime minister is incompetent. Sensing an opportunity, David Cameron neglected to answer the question as there were, you see, more pressing issues. Apparently, he was only too eager to bring up the strikes that did, despite the government’s greatest endeavours, take place on Thursday. This, of course, had nothing at all to do with his inability to answer the detailed question. Instead, the Prime Minister leapt up with glee, before declaring, “What the whole country will have noticed is that at a time when the whole country is worried about strikes, he can’t ask about strikes because he’s in the pocket of the unions”. And there it was; Cameron’s mishandling of an issue, he himself stated was of supreme importance, had conformed spectacularly to Labour’s characterisation of the PM as incompetent. Yet, in order to save himself from ignominy, Mr. Cameron managed to wheel out the age-old Tory line on Labour, and one given extra credence by Mr. Miliband’s fragile leadership.
‘Red Ed’ may have had a sleepless night over being seen as on the wrong side of the public opinion on the pension reform debate, but he will have been relieved to wake up to one particular headline. The news that a snake had killed the man responsible for its birth and ongoing survival bears an uncanny resemblance with the relationship between Mr. Miliband’s Labour Party and the Trades Unions. If Miliband was concerned whether his reticence to mention the public sector strikes would portray him as in throw to the unions, he needn’t have worried.
Firstly, there is surely no greater evidence of the dangers of biting the hand that feeds, whether literally or metaphorically, than the death of American snake-keeper Luke Yeomans, particularly in the context of the Labour Party’s funding crisis.
Secondly, and quite conversely, later events on Thursday suggested that union bosses were perhaps slightly less happy with Mr. Miliband’s position on the strikes. Condemning his comments that the strikes were ‘wrong’, strike leaders were joined by thousands of protesters in booing the very mention of the Labour leader.
Attacked from both sides, some may look to suggest the walls of Westminster were closing in, but perhaps the truth is somewhat more nuanced. In an attempt to characterise his leadership on his own terms, Mr. Miliband began his leadership with repeated calls for his party to appeal to the ‘squeezed middle’, while his recent speech on the government’s welfare proposals indicated a desire to attract the centrist voters Labour feared they had lost after 13 years in power. If pressure from both left and right was trapping the Labour leader anywhere, it was within the narrow confines of the middle ground he so craves.