Nearly man, who just wasn't nearly good enough in end
Published 09/05/2015 | 02:30
If only politics wasn't so brutally binary. What if there was room for a few shades of light and grey. In a more unforgiving world, it might have been Ed Miliband striding confidently up Downing Street, his wife by his side.
But as Labour's former leader never wasted an opportunity to remind voters, our world does not forgive. It is harsh and cruel. It all too frequently fails to "reward those with the right values".
After the first leaders' debate, I was chatting to a few of the other journalists. We quickly reached a consensus. Miliband had "done all right". Not as well as David Cameron. Nowhere near as well as new political uber-phenomenon Nicola Sturgeon. But "all right".
On Wednesday evening, after he had delivered his final election rally in Leeds, we assembled again. Our consensus? Not his best speech. But not his worst. He'd done "all right".
And over the course of the past five years that is basically how Ed Miliband's leadership has come to be defined. All right. Not bad. Could be worse.
It doesn't look like that now, obviously. Not as we stand staring at the smouldering rubble of Labour's election campaign. A Tory majority. More pandas in Edinburgh Zoo than Labour MPs in Scotland. Ed Balls entering his count as if being led to the gallows. Which he was. And although some of us had our suspicions, until now it has not really been possible to directly tie Ed Miliband to such jarring calamity.
His was the 'one step forward, two steps back' leadership. A stumble here - forgetting the deficit, for example. A misstep there - the Falkirk selection scandal. And then suddenly a stride, or at least a tentative step, forward. New leadership election rules. A bold new policy on energy prices. And so gradually, he and his party began to suffocate beneath a blanket of relativism. His approval ratings were still bad. But not as bad as they had been. His speeches were still a bit clunky, and overly academic. But not as bad as they were in the early days. His media appearances were still a bit awkward. But not disastrous. Not bacon sandwich disastrous!
And so Ed Miliband began to grow before our eyes. He was doing all right. Actually, you know what, he was doing quite well. Blimey, he was doing very well. OK, you're not going to believe this, but Ed Miliband could actually be our prime minister.
When I say "our eyes" I mean the media's eyes. The eyes of his own activists. The eyes of some his own MPs.
But there were other eyes watching him. From the very beginning, when he stood on that stage in Manchester and looked directly at his own brother and told him "David, I love you". Straight after he'd killed him off. They were watching when he explained he had been too busy to get his own child's name placed on a birth certificate. How how he wanted to go and have chat with the student rioters. How he now had a blank piece of paper where his policies should be. How of course Labour didn't spend too much. How trying to reform welfare was evil. How vicious those Tory toffs were, and how any decent person would instinctively want to show them the door.
And they didn't see what we saw - us professional Miliband watchers. Because for the voters it wasn't a relative choice, it was an absolute choice. OK, he may not have been quite as bad as they thought he was. But he still wasn't as good as the other guy. Yes, his speeches make a bit more sense these days. But not as much sense as the other guy's. No, he didn't look as weird as they'd first thought. But he still looked a lot weirder than the other guy.
So they voted for the other guy. Because they could. They had a choice. And they'd always had a choice. This is what the suffocating comfort blanket of relativism finally did to Ed Miliband. It took him to the door of a crazy, ranting comedian in the dead of night. And we - the Miliwatchers - said to ourselves "Is that a good idea? I'm not sure. Looks a bit odd. But then again, it's a bold play for the youth vote. If you look at the video with Brand ranting at him, Ed does OK."
And it took him to a photocall with a giant lump of rock. A lump of rock that he would be shoving in the back garden of Downing Street if he was elected prime minister, he announced.
And again us Miliwatchers said "Hmmm. That looks a bit funny. Three days from polling day. But it does get his pledges in the papers. And the polls are looking quite good. So it isn't that bad, really."
But it was. It was very, very bad. Not just the stone and the Russell Brand stuff. The whole Ed Miliband leadership stuff. Because the voters didn't care about the faltering steps forward. They expect their prime minister to be able to step forward, that's a given.
It was the constant stumbling back that scared them. Ed Miliband has just made his resignation speech. It was all right. Actually, it was more than all right. It was excellent. But it was too late. (© Daily Telegraph, London)