Change we can’t believe in
Ahead of next month’s local elections Ed Miliband today gave a speech in Derby promoting Labour’s campaign.
Outlining what he thinks is wrong in the country, Miliband claimed that “we have a political system that too many people believe can’t change it. It makes people believe that things can’t be any better than they are. That it doesn’t matter who is in charge.”
He is right. Public cynicism and voter apathy is widespread, in many ways more trendy than actually holding any faith in the capacity of politics and politicians to do good. Of course, politicians often don’t help themselves. By saying ‘we’re all in this together’, for instance, before cutting welfare and giving tax breaks to the richest. Or signing a pledge to vote against any rise in tuition fees, then just months later campaignign for that very rise. Or taking the country to war on the basis that weapons of mass destruction threaten national security, only for it to be discovered that this case was at best ‘sexed up’.
Yet despite the understanding with which public cynicism must be treated, it must also be stated that apathy will get us nowhere. Recognising that it went some way to costing Labour the 2010 election, Miliband asserts: “We can only restore trust in Labour if we restore trust in politics. We do it by making promises we know we can keep. Not image over substance. Not fake change. But by offering a different direction for the country”.
Unusually for Miliband, this is a rather good speech. Unfortunately, when he promises not to place image over substance the immediate reaction is to politely point out that this may be rather easy for a politician whose public image is hardly capable of covering for any lack in policies. The public may trust him, but they aren’t inspired. Any promises he makes are unlikely to be kept because no-one seems to have faith that he will still be Labour leader come 2015, let alone prime minister.
The talk of change is all well and good. Combined with the pledge to focus more on community campaigning and engagement, it is even reminiscent of Barack Obama in the US.
With Miliband as leader, though, this is change the public will struggle to believe in.