Politics.co.uk Blog

Thursday, 28 July 2011

One nose job later, Ed's still Milibunged-up

Interior, day: a hospital ward in the Royal National Throat, Nose and ear hospital. The leader of the opposition is in bed, surrounded by a gaggle of supporters. He opens his eyes. Amid an atmosphere of fevered anticipation, he speaks.

ED MILIBAND: 'As by nose job imbroved by terror-bull boice?

(instant consternation. Ed Balls tears large chunks out of his hair. Mrs Miliband bursts into tears. The spirit of Gordon Brown's political career falls off its chair)

SPIN DOCTOR 1: Blair in heaven! It didn't work!

SPIN DOCTOR 2: Ach! We'll never win in 2015 now! (exit all bar Miliband, gnashing their collective teeth)

ED MILIBAND (to himself): I bidn't think id was thad bad.


This, it should be noted, is a work of fiction. But it's based on an event which happened yesterday, when the man all right-thinking left-wingers hope will be Britain's next prime minister had a nose job.

The problem, as the Labour spinners explained, was his snoring. A deviated septum has caused him to suffer from obstructive sleep apnoea, causing him to lose sleep at nights. When he does nod off, it is his poor long-suffering wife Justine who is kept awake. A supreme irony, you might think, that a politician whose speeches are occasionally sleep-inducing also has a special talent for keeping someone awake.

There was only one thing for it: a nose job. Ed nose day, as yesterday was instantly termed, was strongly suspected by everyone in Westminster, down to the tea lady, as being motivated more by spin doctors than real ones.

A caller on BBC Radio 2 summed up the problem when the Labour leader appeared for a Q and A session earlier this year. "I get really frustrated when I see you on TV night after night with your grawling voice."

Perhaps Miliband spent those sleepless nights wondering what this refreshingly honest voter meant by 'grawling'. Growling? Drawling? Groaning? App-awling? It didn't really matter which, he must have concluded. None of them were likely to prove vote-winners.

As every politician knows, the voice is a key part of the personality. Some ridiculous individuals suggest it's the ideas that matter, but they're way off the mark. A slick haircut, snappy dress sense, the ability to turn on the charm like a tap - these are the key ingredients of political success in 21st century Britain. Add to the list a smooth, reassuringly self-confident tone of speech and you're 90% of the way there.

This is why there have been so many knowing glances when the spinners claim the nose job has nothing to do with ending Miliband's 'grawling' for good. We haven't yet heard the change, but those who have say it's essentially unchanged. I can't help but have a sneaking suspicion it might have altered, after all. Perhaps they said the same thing before Margaret Thatcher's vocal coaching turned her from a whimpering junior minister into a fire-eating tamer of the 'wets'.

Personally, I think it would be a shame for Miliband to lose his bunged-up persona. It makes him sound a little drab, just a little bit depressed, which is perfect for a leader of the opposition trying to appear like he's been personally let down by the prime minister's terrible policies.

Right now, it works just fine. But in four years, when he's trying to persuade Britain that he's the man they want on the world stage standing up for Britain, it might be a different matter...

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Two Commons subplots: John Bercow and David Miliband

What with the extremely busy - and important - Commons agenda this afternoon, I wasn't able to sneak in a couple of subplots which would usually have found their way into my PMQs sketch.

It would of course be a travesty for the world to continue without these interesting morsels being shared. So, here they are.

Number one: the Speaker taking it easy.

Last week John Bercow launched his strongest attack on the prime minister. He interrupted him in full flow as he wound up to polish off Ed Miliband, simply because he thought he was going on too long. Later in the session he noted that PMQs is "principally for backbenchers".

This sort of manoeuvring is not without consequences. Tory MP Rob Wilson has laid into Bercow in an article in the Telegraph which we've reported on, calling Bercow "bombastic" and "divisive". Worse still, the PM has consigned the Speaker to semi-regular exile in Afghanistan, in an exchange of parliamentary Speakers.

This week Bercow kept himself to himself a bit more. His first intervention came against Cameron, to be sure, but it was in support of the PM, not against him. "I apologise for interrupting the prime minister," he said sorrowfully.

The Speaker may have been acting under the influence of his wife, Sally, who was sitting in the gallery above the government benches. They hate her because of her ambitions to be a Labour politician - and the influence she has had on her husband's own, now officially irrelevant, political opinions. It was striking how firmly she nodded whenever Ed Miliband made a point. And how much she smiled whenever the Speaker spoke.

Number two: the soap opera, still simmering away.

Most MPs run for cover when PMQs are finished, it being lunchtime. Not David Miliband, the former foreign secretary. He was seen slinking into the chamber against the tide to hear David Cameron's statement on troop withdrawals in Afghanistan. Apart from an odd penchant to stroking his red tie, there was nothing really remarkable about this reappearance. But it was striking to see how he silently gazed upon his vanquisher, and younger brother, Ed Miliband nod at Cameron's statement.

He was sitting next to Jack Straw, another has-been veteran of the Tony Blair years. When the text of Cameron's statement was passed along, Straw instantly began poring over the document making annotations hither and thither. Miliband, on receiving his, instantly chucked it disdainfully into the shelf in front of him - and started gazing around him, especially up at the press gallery.

There is something about him - a restless energy, perhaps? - which makes me certain he will return to frontbench politics before the next general election. The elder Miliband is surely biding his time, even if he looks rather bored doing so.