Saturday, 7 March 2015

There are circumstances in which Ed Milliband comes across as a normal human being - who'd have thought?

We watched a recording of an episode of Michael Cockerell's recent four-part BBC TV series, Inside the Commons, last night. Afterwards, I felt strangely troubled - something wasn't quite right, but I couldn't immediately identify the source of my disquiet. It wasn't the usual perplexity about why anyone but a slightly desperate children's entertainer whose career was on the skids would publically humiliate themselves by wearing an object on their heads as bizarre as the Mike Flowers-style arrangement sported by Tory MP Michael Fabricant: after all, that's been perplexing the whole country for years.

Michael Fabricant, MP
As has the mystery of how any MP who didn't actually want to destroy parliamentary democracy could possibly have voted for that bumptious little monster of egotism, David Bercow, as Speaker of the House - or how the clerk of the Commons, Sir Robert Rogers, could bear to have worked for the embarrassing twerp for several years without physically attacking him. (Rogers' announced his early retirement during the making of Cockerell's series - who could blame him?)

Nor was it the terrible physical state of the Houses of Parliament - according to Sir Robert, water was coming through the roof in at least twenty spots. Perhaps some of the £11bn foreign aid budget could be diverted in order to maintain the building's physical integrity. No matter how ghastly many of our MPs are, the Houses of Parliament are not only impressive (I was privileged to work there for several months as the Nine O'clock News politics producer in the mid '90s) but of huge symbolic significance: spending money on them isn't the same as squandering it on here-today-gone-tomorrow politicians, and, as for the public, surely only a tiny minority of bitter lefties would object.

Nor was it the revelation that young female Labour MPs tend to be rather silly and self-obsessed and utterly clueless as to the importance of maintaining traditions. (The Rotherham MP featured in the episode we saw last night kept banging on about how many old men there were in Parliament - give it a rest, love.)

I eventually realised that what was bothering me - what had struck me as off - was the fact that Ed Milliband was featured in the programme, that he had spoken, and that I hadn't shouted at the screen! I swear that I have not heard the Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition on television or radio since he defenstrated his brother in his Gollum-like grab for the top spot without directing a stream of insults in his direction, delivered in what I fondly imagine to be an uncannily accurate impersonation of his truly awful voice. And yet, on this occasion, I listened without feeling the need to remind him of his utter inadequacy (well, to remind my wife and our cat of his utter inadequacy, to be precise).

"I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody."
Why? Well, I suspect it was partly because he was speaking in a normal, everdyday, conversational tone  - he was simply chatting to Michael Cockerell across a desk rather than to a large audience. But then, I've seen Milliband in one-to-one studio interviews on many occasions (say, with Andrew Marr or Jeremy Paxman), and he's been just as annoying as he invariably is when shouting at David Cameron in a panicky fashion during PMQs, or addressing the shower of shags who attend Labour Party conferences.

What was different last night was that he wasn't desperately seeking to contradict something his interlocutor had just said. Even more importantly, he wasn't trying to explain (or excuse) some ridiculous back-of-a-fag-packet party policy, or something one of his team of front bench care-in-the-community numbskulls had blurted out. In other words, he wasn't involved in an argument and wasn't trying to project himself as a strong leader. Consequently, he didn't sound like some annoying, intellectually-challenged Sixth Former at a school debating society event.

Milliband looked (yes, honestly!) and sounded (no, really!) like a normal, rather likeable, and possibly quite sensible human being. Unfortunately (for him - not, obviously, for the rest of us) he seems incapable of appearing normal when he has to shift from informal to formal mode: it's as if, whenever called on to speak as the leader of his party, he's acting, trying to match some imagine in his head of how he thinks a party leader should behave. The problem is, he's an utterly useless actor - he is simply incapable of delivering his lines convincingly. In terms of thespian ineptness, he's actually worse than Michael J. Pollard or Andie MacDowell (and that really is saying something).

"Five years of this idiot and you'll be begging me to come back."
What Milliband needs isn't PR advisers (although he needs those as well) so much as the world's best acting coach. It's a bit late now, with the election just two months' away - but if an unimagineable catastrophe befalls this country and he ends up as our Prime Minister (with the possible help of a bunch of SNP MPs who loathe the English) then I hope Milliband will agree to undergo a crash course of acting lessons (at the tax-payer's expense - this is one thing I wouldn't mind chipping in for) in order to minimise the embarrassment he will cause this nation by appearing on the world stage. If he doesn't agree to coaching, then let's hope his minders never let him out of the country - I'm sure none of us wants Britain to become the world's laughing-stock.

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