Seeing that now-infamous photograph of Ed Miliband, holding Thursday's copy of the Sun out in front of him as if it were one of those enormous novelty cheques, with an awkward grin on his face, triggered a fairly typical reaction from me - a sigh, and a roll of my eyes. I tried to rationalise it all sorts of different ways in my head. Perhaps he was stricken by some sort of temporary blindness? Maybe he only saw the back cover of it, and was led to believe that he was posing with a charming, if amateurish, drawing of his own face, done by some well-meaning children? Or was he forced to hold the despicable rag, at gunpoint, with the holder of the weapon skilfully edited out of the photo?
It took about three or four seconds for me to realise that none of these explanations were correct, and that what had actually happened was that Miliband had momentarily lost all common sense, forgotten all the things he had said and done about the Sun, News International, and Rupert Murdoch, and instead allowed himself to be stained by the very rag that he had tried, to a certain extent, to take on during his leadership. Miliband's actual explanation for posing with the paper - ah, I was just supporting the lads out in Brazil! - was moronic, and can be seen through by a child, if that child is interested in such things. Taking a picture with that newspaper was one of two things: either an act of stupidity by a busy, badly-advised man who wasn't thinking straight, or, much more worryingly, a cynical act of hypocrisy, shamelessly courting voters, in contrast to his own previous pronouncements on the values of the group which runs this particular newspaper.
To see Miliband offer a tacit endorsement of the Sun must have been, at the very least, extremely disappointing to anyone who votes Labour, likes Labour, or was even considering Labour for 2015. The Sun, we all know, symbolises much of what is terrible about modern British society. A friend of mine returned the free copy he received in Thursday's post to the editor, criticising the paper's record on women's rights, LGBT equality, poverty and the environment. He was right on all counts, and could just have easily have added many other issues on which the Sun is wholly and disgracefully on the wrong side of the argument to his list - Hillsborough, of course, springs to mind, as does the paper's casual anti-Islamic rhetoric.
I have no doubt that Miliband's views on all of the issues cited above are directly contradictory to those of the Sun. He could have declined to be pictured with the paper quite easily, and could have explained that his own ideology is not one that the Sun shares. It might have even been a good opportunity to sketch out his own ideology, clearly and concisely, to the British public, many of whom seem to be thoroughly unaware of it. Instead, he managed to aggravate many of his own supporters, a good chunk of his own MPs, and practically the entire city of Liverpool. This is because what he, or one of his advisers, saw when that copy of the Sun made its way into Miliband's hands was the expected circulation figure of a newspaper being dispatched into tens of millions of homes on the next day. A disaster was mistakenly viewed as an opportunity; it was seized and has backfired spectacularly.
What Miliband's error epitomizes is the shallowness and emptiness of modern British politics. Whoever decided Miliband should have that picture taken believes that the British people will vote for a candidate who likes the same newspaper that they do, and that this newspaper in particular governs the voting intentions of the public. This is an extremely patronising viewpoint.
The Sun follows the people, or attempts to - not the other way around, and anyone who thinks the Sun has this much power underestimates the intelligence of the voters. This was an attempt to widen Miliband's appeal, using a tool that was completely anathema to the task, which managed to signify the political class's contempt for the public, contradict Miliband's own ideology, and highlight the fact that politicians no longer conduct themselves through ideas and words, but through photo opportunities and publicity shots. Let's not forget, either, that both David Cameron and Nick Clegg had their picture taken for the same edition of the Sun. They're all at it - desperately trying to appeal to the broadest church possible in the easiest manner possible. All three of them are symbols of the nullity and laziness that mars the attempts of our politicians to reach out to voters.
In the end, however, it is the Labour leader who was the biggest sinner in this case, because he was the one leader of the three who ought to have known better, who had the most to lose from such a silly and avoidable mistake. In short, this gaffe degraded Miliband, and degraded politics.
Ah well. At least it wasn't a copy of the Daily Mail.
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