How the West (Wing) was won. Or: Ed Miliband must call Cameron’s bluff

I love ‘The West Wing’. It’s a glimpse of how politics could and should be, and a fascinating education in how political systems can negate even the best intentions. As it was written by people who’d actually lived the life, it’s also a source of good information on how politics works, what to do and what not to do.

One of the recurring elements has been in my mind lately. On numerous occasions, one of the political ‘old hands’ will tell an up and comer not to let his/her opponent frame the debate, and not to grant the premise of a misleading question.

I think that lesson applies very strongly to the current Parliamentary situation, because I think I see a pattern in the way David Cameron tries to neutralise, or if possible belittle, Ed Miliband. I’m not talking about the out and out bad-mouthing – though there’s plenty of that and it makes Cameron look immature and infantile (which I think he’s proving himself to be). I’m talking about a slightly more subtle tack (Cameron may be childish and arrogant, but he’s cunning) that has become a constant theme in his pronouncements and accusations.

David Cameron is trying to cast Ed Miliband as ‘Cameron Lite’ – in effect, saying ‘He’d do just the same as I would, except in a weaker and more wishy-washy way, and what’s more he’s in the pocket of the unions. He wants to do what I’m doing, but he daren’t because he’s scared of the unions’.

In Cameron’s recent lash-out at the Labour leader, he asked rhetorically whether Miliband was weak or left wing, then concluded ‘he’s both!’. Miliband refused to engage with the point, which superficially looked like a good decision, but in fact by not giving a categorical answer, he was allowing Cameron to frame the debate. Similarly, when Cameron regularly challenges Miliband to condemn whatever latest industrial action the Tories’ ‘smash & grab’ policies have caused, Miliband carefully avoids allowing Cameron to corner him on the issue.

I believe this is a mistake – and now more than ever.

Another regular motif in TWW is ‘You have to know what you stand for – and voters have to know’. In using ‘left-wing’ as an insult, Cameron is in fact displaying just how true Nadine Dorries’ accusation of being arrogant and out of touch is. People are beginning to realise that the ‘cut to grow’ ploy is a Big Lie; that the pain is just beginning and the benefits aren’t going to come; that the Tories’ main passion is the interests of the already-rich; in short, that the Tories are the Tories, and their true colours will always show.

What people need now is a clear statement that there is an alternative. Not a slightly less draconian, slightly less ‘blue’ version of the ‘leaders’ we have now – but a genuine, unashamed, ethical soclalism that has the best interests of the ordinary British people at heart, including the weak, vulnerable and disadvantaged. One that states – unequivocally – that there is a different and better way, and the ways things are now is not set in stone, not the only way. And certainly by no means the best one.

The growing anti-austerity trend around Europe demonstrates that people are waking up to the wool that the neoliberals have pulled over their eyes for too long. François Hollande understood the lesson, saw the opportunity, and humiliated the right-wing Presidential incumbent. We Brits are different – but we’re not stupid. People are starting to understand – and since the facts are against the Tory deception (see my ‘Inherited Mess’ posts and others on this blog), presenting them in the right way, clearly and with conviction, is going to carry a lot of weight, and persuade a lot of people.

The next time David Cameron accuses or taunts Ed Miliband, singing his old tune of ‘you wish you were me, but you’re weaker’, Ed Miliband should call his bluff. David Cameron is using the tactic because he’s terrified that the British electorate is going to see a candidate with strong and better convictions, and in that light will see Cameron for the shallow, vacuous lightweight that he is.

The next time Cameron calls Miliband a socialist as if it were an insult, Miliband should claim the title, own it – and wear it with pride. And then rip Cameron’s legs off as he taunts him with his fears.

The next time Cameron taunts Miliband about the industrial action being taken by people who are being systematically robbed and have no other way to resist, Miliband should answer that yes, he is absolutely on the side of the people against greed and injustice – and use that as a platform for a ringing declaration that there is a better way.

I like Ed Miliband, and I’ve become convinced that he’s a man with heart, with convictions, with a vision – and with nerve. I believe that it’s time to show Cameron for what he is – and that a frontal assault is the best way. Demolish his postures and his fatuous arguments, and do so mercilessly. The facts are with us, and against him.

People will warm to conviction, clearly expressed. They’re heartsick of mealy-mouthedness and ready to be inspired by the force of someone who believes – and states unequivocally – the rightness of his convictions. One who knows you can’t please everyone, but that the rich have enough to be happy about and taking care of the vulnerable and the majority is more important. We’re ready for someone who’s socialist, left-wing and the antithesis of everything odious about the Conservatives – and proud of it.

I started with ‘The West Wing’ and I’ll finish with it. In the first episode of the second series, Leo McGarry talks to Josiah Bartlett (in a flashback to a discussion when Bartlett was still campaigning for the Presidency about why JB should continue his campaign) and says:

‘Because I’m tired of it: year after year after year after year of having to choose between the lesser of “who cares” – of trying to get myself excited about a candidate who can speak in complete sentences. Of setting the bar so low, I can hardly look at it. They say a good man can’t get elected President. I don’t believe that – do you?’

We’ve had years of low bars, of party leaders fighting over the middle ground, over who can be the most lukewarm and the least offensive. People are tired of it, and it shows in low turnouts, cynicism and weariness with politics. We need a candidate who’ll dare to take a strong position – one who’s socialist and proud of it, and who dares to convey that conviction to people who are bowed under the weight of predator-capitalism and the cynical politicians who protect and promote it.

Ed – it’s time

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