There is a well-known and over-used phrase in football. A centre-forward nervously stabs at the ball, six yards from goal, and misses again. The ball flies yards wide of the post and the fans roar with displeasure. Yet, in the post-match interview, the manager is brimming with praise - "at least he is getting in the right positions to miss", he says.
This is how I feel about Ed Miliband. As Ernst & Young slashes UK growth predictions (which weren't exactly optimistic in the first place), the Euro Zone teeters on the brink of collapse and living standards fall, Ed Miliband is in position to pounce and attack the Coalition. Indeed, Miliband's ideas, portrayed in his conference speech, offer an intellectual cure to many of the worries and fears for families across the country. 'The Squeezed Middle', 'responsibility at the top and bottom of society', 'there are bad business practices that exploit, rather than harness society' are all prevalent themes that should be connecting with people in this age of austerity.
Why does it seem that nobody is listening? At a recent event, John Longworth, director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, almost mocked the Labour leader, claiming he could hardly remember one of Labour's 5 pledges for growth. Whilst polls have improved slightly, the Conservatives remain ahead in relation to economic credibility. The papers, in general, remain negative about Miliband, lapping up Conservative briefings that the public think he is 'weird' - an echo of similar sneers about Gordon Brown. Indeed, the Daily Mail stood out in expressing pleasure in Miliband's effort to promote responsibility. Although this sparked great pleasure in the leader's office, the editorial decision had more to do with Paul Dacre's personal dislike of David Cameron than any long-lasting respect for Miliband.
How can Miliband get a fair hearing? Ed Miliband is an intellectual. His attempt to portray his nuanced vision of a more ethical and fairer capitalism was merely to simplify his message. His decision to highlight 'good' and 'bad' businesses was nonsensical. Any media specialist would, on reading a draft of the speech, picture a raging, gallivanting Andrew Neil, turning increasingly rouge in skin tone, go from Labour MP to Labour MP asking for examples of a 'bad business' - Weetabix? Simplifying a message does not necessarily make it more appealing to the public.
Miliband shouldn't be scared of his intellectualism and academic accomplishments. The speech that has done most to start shifting the economic debate from one about fiscal conservatism towards growth was steeped in history and political theory. Ed Balls' speech at Bloomberg during the Labour leadership election was carefully briefed to the media and set out the beginnings of an alternative narrative to the Conservative cuts. Whilst the details of Keynes' writings in the 1920s might not attract vast audiences, with the right briefings to key journalists, such a speech looks credible and impressive and helps shift the debate.
Credibility is often the most critical quality in reaching out to the public. If you are self-serving, self-publicising or simply showing-off, the public won't listen. The answer often lies in utilising a third party and in politics it is an incredibly powerful tool. During the election campaign, the 50-odd businessmen who wrote in to The Times criticising Labour's so-called 'job tax' set a tone for the campaign that could not be overcome. In the 1990s, Labour in opposition depoliticised the issue of the minimum wage by promising to create an independent low pay commission when in government. Not only did this stop Labour being portrayed as anti-business, it eventually helped bring round opinion to the extent that the CBI supported the policy and the Conservatives would never dare repeal it today. For Ed Miliband, there would be no better place to start than a pro-enterprise body, headed up by a senior business leader looking into how government can create the environment for thriving, sustainable and ethical business practice.
William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith, when Leader of the Opposition, were never in the right positions to score. They were the third-choice reserve team goalkeeper: irrelevant. Miliband is not in the same position because his agenda and ideas threaten the Conservative economic narrative. He believes that his politics can calm the angst that comes with 21st century globalisation in the aftermath of a financial crisis. He believes Cameron's conservatism does not have the capacity to deal with the fundamental failings of markets. Cameron's own conference speech showed somewhat surprising respect to Miliband's agenda with his own call for 'businesses to be more socially responsible'. Miliband's challenge is to express and argue his agenda in a more coherent, authentic and relevant way. He's in the penalty box, he just needs to learn how to score.
Follow Jake Richards on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JakeBenRichards