It’s never easy being leader of a Party in opposition, but poor Ed Miliband is having an unusually tough time. As if it wasn’t bad enough that a junior Shadow colleague had to make an embarrassing climbdown because he didn’t know the difference between Kent and Essex, then Ed had eggs thrown at him and he languishes dismally in the popularity polls. Furthermore, the economy seems to be, in a dithery sort of way, picking up, so those wretched Tories will get all the credit.
This is a clever and decent man who seems out of his depth. His first mistake was to compete for the job, making it appear that he had to commit fratricide in order to get it. He lacks the steely charm of Blair, the born-to-rule silky tongue of Cameron, the arrogance of Thatcher, the – well, what’s the point of going on? He’s too nice and too ordinary. He just doesn’t look real when he’s trying to be ‘tough’ and ‘statesmanlike’: you can see the spin doctor’s hands up his sleeves and moving his mouth. It will always be easy to put him down by describing him as a dork, a panda, a geek or any number of other unflattering comparisons. Meantime Labour grandees give him contradictory advice through newspaper columns while grumpy loyalists tell him to declare a strategy, any strategy, as in truth none is discernible at the moment.
As a coach I frequently work with executives in versions of Ed Miliband’s situation. They have somehow found themselves in exposed leadership roles and have discovered to their horror that nothing is what they thought it would be. The demands are relentless and irreconcilable. They don’t enjoy it. They do their best, work their socks off and then all they get is constant whining from underlings who seem continuously disappointed in them or even worse, who betray them to their boss or to the media. They don’t like having all that responsibility. The rewards seem thin for the effort that has to be put into getting them. Their only relief is when they eventually step down and as one such client put it, ‘become a civilian again’.
This man must be surrounded by advisers and he has a loyal wife, but I doubt that Ed Miliband has a coach as it rarely seems to occur to politicians that it might be helpful. How I wish that he did – so that he could ponder these dilemmas with a sympathetic but challenging outsider who has absolutely no personal or political agenda. Does he really want to go on with it? Do the benefits outstrip the personal costs? Where does his real duty lie? What other kinds of career or role might be possible? My instinct is that if he had this kind of help, his torture might come swiftly to some kind of face-saving end.