Labour leader Ed Miliband found traction when he railed against the Tories’ “dodgy donors” but he must refine his message to build on the momentum
The phone hacking scandal had its “Milly Dowler moment” when it leapt from earnest obscurity to public consciousness. That is the tasteless phrase ascribed by BBC’s Nick Robinson to Ed Miliband’s success in tying the Prime Minister to the HSBC tax scandal.
The Labour leader’s “dodgy donor” diatribe might yet backfire (Labour has them too) but, in the moment, he elicited a vanilla mea culpa from former Conservative treasurer Lord Fink, who blinked in the face of Ed’s uncharacteristic moral certainty.
Before Ed seized the tax story, it was a candidate for the long grass. People know the Downton Abbey crew follow different rules.
Then he capitalised on his success with an assault on the pliable HMRC which could be easily mistaken for HSBC not only by its letterhead but by its MO.
He may yet pluck defeat from the jaws of victory. Just look at the energy “price freeze” breakthrough which became conflated with his assault on predatory businesses and lost its way.
The clunky communicator fails to fine-tune his narratives; he doesn’t understand the two are distinct in the voters’ minds. One is business, the other is bills. One is them, the other is us.
The area he should occupy to reach beyond his core is that of consumer champion. Anne Robinson’s rigour. Roger Cook’s foot in the door. Esther Rantzen’s bite. Fight not the faceless board room but the faceless phone bank; the double-speak, the small print, the hidden fees. Don’t attack the wealth creators but the weak regulators and the “your-call-is-important-to-us” slippers and sliders.
Taking this tendency to the extreme you have the tragic case of retired gardener Malcolm Burge who poured petrol in the footwell of his car and burned himself alive because Newham Council repeatedly bounced him around the system treating him as a case number rather than a person with financial woes.
Ed Miliband is right to suggest a formal role for Which? and the Citizens Advice in the Competition and Markets Authority. He should push further by getting angrier.
His battle should not be the “haves against the have nots” but the “time poor against the artful dodgers”.
It’s not the fight against but the fight for. Furious and unflinching. A red rag to the bull****.