Today Labour leader Ed Miliband gave a speech on leadership and ‘the choice’ at the Royal Institute of British Architects. Here’s what he said:
I want to begin by saying something about the horrifying situation in Israel and Gaza. I speak as a friend of Israel and a friend of the Palestinian people. The murder of the three Israeli teenagers at the start of this cycle of violence was an appalling and brutal act. The rocket attacks by Hamas from Gaza are unjustifiable, outrageous and an act of terror. I defend Israel’s right to defend itself and its people against these attacks.
But I simply cannot justify what we are seeing unfolding in Gaza: the mounting death toll of innocent Palestinian civilians. We opposed this latest Israeli incursion into Gaza because, despite the extreme provocation from Hamas, we feared it would lead to the further deaths of the innocent, fail to act as a deterrent and simply risk recruiting more people to the cause of Hamas.
The tragedy yesterday at the UN school is a horrific example of precisely what we feared: the death, destruction and mayhem resulting from the escalation of violence.
And now it is spreading to East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
This is a cycle of violence that has spiralled out of control. Hundreds have died. And with every hour the casualties rise.
The international community must be allowed immediate access to provide medical assistance to the wounded and in the longer term we need reconstruction of destroyed homes, hospitals, schools and infrastructure. But above all, both sides must realise that there can be no military solution to this conflict. I urge them to take a step back and return to a different logic. The logic of ceasefire, de-escalation, of an end to the killing.
And Europe also has a responsibility: to support the United States in seeking that ceasefire and meaningful negotiations around a two state solution which we know is essential and the only sustainable route to securing security for Israel and a viable state for the Palestinian people. And this Labour Party will always strive to play its part in seeking to secure peace and justice in the Middle East.
Now I am here today to launch our summer campaign. We are in the middle of the last summer before the next general election. By this time next year, that election will have been fought.
Today Labour launches its summer campaign about the choice between ourselves and the Tories. The failure of four years of this government. The threat of another five years of David Cameron. And the positive vision for the future from Labour. Members of the Shadow Cabinet will be out in the summer talking about this choice.
It is good that today’s figures show the economy is growing but it is so wrong to believe that everything is fixed. There are deep problems that began before the recession and aren’t being solved by the recovery.
For so many people in this country their hard work isn’t being rewarded.
So next year we will have a choice between a Labour government determined to change an economy that still doesn’t work for most people against a Tory government that simply doesn’t understand the scale of the challenge.
A choice between a Labour government that believes the way a country succeeds is with the talents of all against a Tory government that thinks the only people who create wealth are those at the top.
A choice between a Labour government determined to restore the right values to our National Health Service against a Tory government that will let our NHS fall into decline and disrepair.
A choice between a Labour government that will make our country work for ordinary families once again against a Tory government that will look after only the few.
Four years ago when we set out on this journey, people said we couldn’t be a one term opposition. But because of the unity we have shown and the programme we have developed, today, we’re in a position to win the next general election.
But to do that we have to recognise that our real opponent is not simply the Tories but it is something different. Nobody I have met on the doorstep has said, “I’m really excited about the chance to keep this Tory government.” No. That’s not our challenge.
Our challenge is bigger. Our biggest obstacle isn’t the Conservative Party. It is cynicism. The belief that nobody can make a difference. That all politics is the same.
Today I want to talk about why a certain style of leadership feeds that cynicism. And I want to argue that we need a new type of leadership in this country.
Let me start with what you know: the cynicism we see and hear is not about you, people who go and knock on doors and bear the brunt of the anger. When people say ‘you’re all the same, you’re in it for yourself, you don’t care about my life’, they are not talking about you. They’re talking about us: the politicians. Our motivation, our way of doing things and what matters to us. Millions of people think that for us as politicians, it actually is all about us. That we are in it for ourselves, for our own success, not the country’s.
There are lots of reasons why people think that. But a lot of it comes to the difference people see between what matters in their life and what seems to matter in modern politics. They believe we value posturing more than principle. Good photos or soundbites more than a decent policy. Image more than ideas. And it is no surprise that people think that. Because so often the terms of trade of politics—the way it is discussed and rated— has become about the manufactured, the polished, the presentational. Politics is played out as showbiz, a game, who is up and who is down. Rather than the best chance a lot of people have to change their lives.
This is not new but it has got worse. Politicians have fuelled it. The media feed it. At Prime Minister’s Questions, we keep score. When Tory women get appointed to the Cabinet, they are said to be “walking down the Downing Street catwalk”. And things are judged far more on style than substance.
But this political culture, this photo-op politics, denies people a debate about the things that really matter.
And does deep harm to our country. It leaves politics a game that fewer and fewer people are watching, or believing. People’s sense of the artificiality, the triviality, the superficiality of politics is more highly tuned than ever. And the more it seems this is what matters to us, the more the public are put off.
Unless we stand up now and say that we want to offer people something different, more and more will simply turn away. Assuming that it has simply become about celebrity. And C-list celebrities at that.
And if we allow that to continue to happen, we will also rob people of the debate they deserve. About the things that matter.
But here is the good news: I am determined that at the next election we give people a choice about the kind of leadership they can have.
David Cameron is a very sophisticated and successful exponent of a politics driven by image. I am not going to able to compete with that. And I don’t intend to. I want to offer something different.
He made his name as Leader of the Opposition for some fantastic photos, like hanging out with huskies in the Arctic Circle. I congratulate him for it. Even my biggest supporters would say I haven’t matched him on that.
I have come to realise two reasons why. First, it is not what I care most about. And second, it is not just that I haven’t tried to do it, it’s not where my talents lie —as you may have noticed. Of course image and pictures matter and count for all of us. And always will. They are part of our politics, and will always remain so. And I have a team who work for me on these things. And will continue to do so.
But I am not from central casting. You can find people who are more square-jawed. More chiselled. Look less like Wallace. You could probably even find people who look better eating a bacon sandwich.
If you want the politician from central casting, it’s just not me, it’s the other guy. And if you want a politician who thinks that a good photo is the most important thing, then don’t vote for me. Because I don’t.
But here’s the thing: I believe that people would quite like somebody to stand up and say there is more to politics than the photo-op. And that culture diminishes our politics. More than ever because of the serious issues that the British people are facing in their lives. That the world is facing.
So today I want to address what matters to me.
What do we really need in our leaders? And the answer doesn’t actually start with the politicians and how we look. That’s the thing about photo-op politics: it is about us and not about you.
If politics is going to respond to the distrust people feel, it has to start by talking about the things that matter to you. About whether your work will enable you to make ends meet and have a better future for yourself and your family.
About whether your kids will have a better life than you. About whether we can begin to overcome the deep divisions that exist in our country, the inequalities that divide us.
Britain needs leadership that can help answer those questions.
The current guy might take a good picture but he can’t build a country that works for you. It is not what he cares most about. And you are not who he stands up for.
Here’s what I think matters.
The leadership you need and the leadership this country needs is one that has big ideas to change things. With the sense of principle needed to stick to those beliefs and ideas even when it is hard. And with the decency and empathy to reach out to people from all backgrounds, all walks of life. For me, those qualities are the gold standard for what a modern leader should offer.
And by the way, let me say right at the outset: I will sometimes fall short of that gold standard. But it is how I believe leadership should be judged. The first of these qualities is about ideas and deep thinking about the future of Britain.
I knew when I got this job that unless I listened to you, the British people, and then thought what about it meant for our country, we could never change things properly. If leaders chase every passing bandwagon, they will be found out. In opposition, because there will be no coherence to what they offer. And in government, because they will twist in the wind, with every passing pressure they face.
And it is by thinking deeply that we have built our policy, our arguments over the last four years. This requires big answers and big ideas because making the country work for all families not just a few is a huge challenge facing our generation. Changing this won’t be completed in one term of government or even two.
Now when I talk like this, some people say the words and concepts I use are sometimes too long or too complicated. And I know that few people will be talking about “responsible capitalism” on the doorstep. It doesn’t make a great soundbite.
But the key thing about the journey we have been on as a party is that we have built our policy on serious thinking about how we change our economy. Our arguments about the cost-of-living crisis and the squeeze on living standards. Our policies on the minimum wage and tackling low pay. On building homes. On vocational education. On standing up to the big vested interests. All of these are built on deep foundations.
So my first point is that ideas do matter. Our political culture doesn’t sufficiently appreciate them. But they change the world. But ideas are not enough. You need to stick to them, even when times are hard. Even when those who disagree are big and powerful. And that takes consistency of purpose. It takes principle.
We all know that it is far easier to stand up to the weak than the strong. To tell disabled people they have to pay the bedroom tax and millionaires they can have a tax cut. Or to tell ordinary families they have to make sacrifices but it is business as usual for those at the top.
But if we are to tackle the big problems we face, we will need leadership that will stand up and fight for ordinary families. Whatever the opposition, whoever it is. However powerful they are. Whether it is the banks, the energy companies or Rupert Murdoch.
Of course, I don’t always manage to do it as I should. Sometimes you get it wrong. I know, especially for people on Merseyside, me holding up a copy of the Sun was one of those days. Politics is a hard business to get right. But consistency matters.
And that means seeking to stick to your principles even when it doesn’t seem fashionable to do so. Because if principle simply becomes replaced by expediency, then all it does is add further to cynicism. The sense that politics is just a game. Like when someone hugs a huskie before an election and then says cut the green crap after it. Or hugs a hoodie before an election and then says they should be locked up afterwards. Or says they are a compassionate Conservative before an election and then acts like a callous Conservative after.
So sticking to them is hard, but principles and consistency of purpose matter. But even ideas and principles alone aren’t enough of course. I said earlier that it was from you, the British people, that I had sought to build our programme. If ideas are the most underrated commodity in politics, decency and empathy are the most underrated virtues.
My true test of leadership is not just whether you look the part but whether you can retain your soul. Not being dismissive or contemptuous of people, whoever they are, wherever they come from. We expect from our family and friends an ability to listen, to understand our problems, our point of view. But if we expect it in our normal life, why not in our politics?
Think of some of the worst things this government has done: like the Bedroom Tax. And some of the mistakes the last government made: like abolishing the 10p starting rate of tax. Lack of empathy, understanding of what people were facing and feeling, was part of the problem.
Of course, people want leaders who can make tough decisions. But I believe tough decisions don’t mean we have to leave our empathy and decency at the door. In fact, the opposite is true.
If we are to govern for the whole country, if we are to get policy right, listening is an essential part of leading. This openness to others isn’t the style of leadership we’ve grown used to. Or the style of leadership we celebrate. But it is what I aspire to as a person and as a politician. And would seek never to lose as Prime Minister. Because it is the only way we can build the country I believe in.
If the kind of country we want is one where we look out for each other – and it is – then surely it should be one of the most important things in our politics. Big ideas, principles, decency and empathy – that’s how I judge leadership, that’s the leadership I aspire to.
More and more people are turning away from politics. And I can understand why. We face big challenges as a country: Building an economy that works for everyone; Planning for a future in which our kids can have a better life than us; Uniting our country.
These are big problems and they aren’t going to be solved by the kind of leadership that we have just now.
We need a new leadership: Leadership that thinks deeply and offers creative, new ideas. Leadership that seeks to be faithful to principle, even when it’s hard to do. Leadership that listens and cares. No. I am not trying to win a photo-op contest in the next 10 months. And I wouldn’t win it if I tried. But I offer something different. Something which seeks not just to defeat the Tories but to take on cynicism. And I know the qualities I have talked about don’t just matter to me.
They matter to you. They are the bedrock of this party.
Let’s show people that we have new ideas to address the problems the country faces. Let’s show people that we seek to offer principles that prove that politics can be about more than what is expedient and convenient. And let’s show that we believe decency and empathy are crucial values not just for our communities but for our country.
And let’s do so knowing something else: These aren’t just your values and my values. They are the values of the British people. Britain is better than the political culture we have.
Britain can do better than this.
So let’s go out and show the British people we can build a politics equal to their values. Equal to the country they believe in. Together, let’s go out and show how we can change Britain.