After facing a considerably rocky stretch as Labour leader, Ed Milliband has managed to capitalise on the scandalous fervour surrounding the telephone hacking extravaganza and David Cameron’s seemingly dubious ties with some of its more dastardly culprits. It was his “Diana moment,” exclaimed the Telegraph; it was the moment “he threw off the ‘L’ plates,” cried the Observer. For once, Ed Milliband is getting credit for having done something well.
Like the gangsters of America’s prohibition era, David Cameron seemed untouchable little more than three weeks ago. Despite Andrew Landsley’s keen efforts to alienate medical professionals and Ken Clarke’s careless suggestion that some forms of rape are not all that serious, the Prime Minister has continued to stand a man apart, far from the frenzied crowd.
Cameron managed to effortlessly swat away Milliband’s accusations whenever the opposition leader tried to land even the faintest of blows upon him. Cameron belittled his opponent, making him seem weak and inexperienced. The cracks in Milliband’s composure began to surface and he suddenly appeared vulnerable. Quite audibly, one could discern the din of discontent growing in the Labour Party as it began to resemble a disparate group of unknown lightweights all wondering if they had chosen the wrong brother to bring to an all-out brawl.
Just as all seemed hopelessly lost, the Guardian stepped in as Milliband’s shining knight in all its self-satisfied glory. Its dogged pursuit of the phone-hacking story conjured up fresh allegations. However, this time they weren’t about the rich and the famous, but rather the murdered Milly Dowler, a ‘real’ person.
Milliband suddenly found himself armed with a loaded shotgun of oratory, which he duly put to use in Prime Minister’s Questions, spraying Cameron’s reputation all over the Conservative backbenches. The resounding shot was delivered when Milliband nasally roared: “Does the Prime Minister agree with me that Rebekah Brooks should stand down?!”
If Cameron was untouchable, Rupert Murdoch has hitherto been invincible. Like a gifted puppeteer, his empire has tugged at the strings of politicians, the police, and the general population. Indeed, its power is so great and its self-confidence so vast that, moments after Milliband made his bold comments, one of his aides received a phone call from News International, declaring: “You’ve made this personal about Rebekah, now we’re going to make it personal about you.”
Seemingly unfazed or caught in a perpetual motion machine he could no longer control, Milliband battled on, seizing the impetus and defining the agenda for the last fortnight. Cameron was left bewildered and floundering. He had to cut his tour of Africa short to return to the UK and respond to allegations relating to his chumminess with media moguls.
By all accounts, the Labour man has done very well. The only problem he now faces is that the hacking saga will not last forever and he will be expected to define himself as more than a rhetorically adept finger-pointer.
Outside of the bubble the media and politicians exist in, evidence suggests that people have little interest in this scandal’s potential ramifications. Three polls released in late July suggest that few will be changing their voting patterns in future elections as a result of the hacking revelations. While many expressed dismay and disgust regarding the way in which News International targeted its victims, most people have lives to be getting on with. Judge-led inquiries won’t put food on the table or retain law and order. It’s all just a bit of a sideshow to the public.
This is what Mr Milliband must come to realise. His success may be short-lived if he cannot secure the public’s support on his economic and foreign policy stances. When the hacking scandal slips off the agenda, Milliband will no longer have something to define himself against, so he will have to set out what his concrete goals are, something he has consistently failed to do.
Perspective must be taken therefore, for once this ‘hackgate honeymoon’ is over for Milliband, it will become clear whether he is capable of electoral success or if this scandal will merely mark the high point of an otherwise ordinary, ultimately doomed leadership.