The Hard Choices – Strategy vs Tactics

Ed Miliband in Dorset
Image by Labour via Flickr

I’m going to make myself unpopular with this blog post, I fear.

Ed Miliband may look a bit silly doing that silly repetitive interview. It may not be the best media management in the world, but I can’t help thinking he did the right thing in telling the world he thought the strikes yesterday were a mistake.

I’m not saying that the strikes were wrong. As I posted yesterday, I went out and spoke to some of the strikers and could understand their frustrations and their feeling that this was the only way they could communicate those frustrations in a way the Government might stop and listen to.

However, as Leader of the Opposition and a potential Prime-Minister-in-waiting, he had to avoid being painted by the media and Tories as ‘in the pocket of the unions’. Attacking Ed for saying a specific strike was a mistake is not the right thing to do. No Leader of the Labour Party has supported a specific strike action since Michael Foot.

Neil Kinnock said more than once that one of his biggest regrets was not opposing the way Scargill led the miners out in 1984. And Miliband can’t support every strike that happens, especially when the unions involved aren’t even affiliated to the Labour party.

Ed had to choose between the short-term tactic of playing to his supporters and coming out in favour of the strike, or the long-term strategy of opposing the strikes and shaking off the image of being in the pockets of the unions. At the same time, he looked to those outside the westminster political bubble like a leader who could make a difficult decision.

He tried to find a middle line and act as arbitrator. His big problem is how badly he or his staff ballsed up the tv interview he gave on the subject to the BBC. Really cringeworthy stuff. The Leader’s office really need to sharpen up their mainstream media operation. They seem to struggle to cope with TV and the printed press.

On the other hand, they’re really getting good at using new media strategy. Ed yesterday cut out the annoying middle man in the shape of a journalist and launched a defence of his position on his blog. He then pointed the public to it using his facebook and twitter. This is a strategy that has worked well for Ed before.

He knows he comes across better directly with the public than he does with the rather cynical political press. In set-piece speeches, he has in the past ensured a public audience are there to ask questions which neutralises journalists who come across as being very aggressive and negative in that environment.

Miliband made the strategic choice – the same choice made by all Leaders of the Labour Party – and has made it more difficult for Team Cameron to pigeonhole him in some old Labour Union puppet stereotype, and in the long-term, that will pay off however unpopular it may make him with the left-wing in the short-term.

He did what he needed to do and made the hard choice, and no doubt he’ll have to choose again in the months to come.

One comment

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