‘If Ed Miliband doesn’t provide more direction for his party and more definition for himself,’ Mary Ann Sieghart writes in today’s Independent, ‘he is in danger of ending up like William Hague.’ She doesn’t mean he’ll be foreign secretary one day; rather that he stands no chance of being prime minister unless he manages to ‘project a political personality that engages voters’ imagination’. ‘People want to know what type of person he is and what motivates him,’ she says. Newspaper columnists have been complaining about Miliband along these lines since before he was elected Labour leader. And they couldn’t be more wrong.
Hague’s problem was that he was too well defined: as a Euro-basher, as a Thatcherite zealot, and as not Kenneth Clarke (the most popular Conservative nationally). Blair’s merits in opposition – his only merits, as it turned out – lay in nice manners and a shimmering anonymity. The mighty shift to the right was layered over with vagueness and TV charm: from the point of view of gaining power, exactly the right thing to do. Miliband is not as clever as Mary Ann Sieghart, but he’s clever enough to know that tedious clichés got that way by being right: governments lose elections; oppositions simply have to keep their noses clean, make no unnecessary enemies and let the follies and misfortunes of their opponents carry them across the Commons floor – work on which the coalition is well ahead of schedule.