If voters want a "square-jawed" prime minister from "central casting", rather than a leader with "principles and decency", then they should not vote for him, Ed Miliband said today.
In a defiant but self-deprecating speech in London, to launch the party's summer campaign, the Labour leader said he wanted to "congratulate" David Cameron for being "a very sophisticated and successful exponent of a politics driven by image" before conceding: "I am not going to able to compete with that. And I don’t intend to."
He continued: "You can find people who are more square-jawed. More chiseled. Look less like Wallace. You could probably even find people who look better eating a bacon sandwich."
Miliband, in shirt-sleeves, said: "If you want the politician from central casting, it’s just not me, it’s the other guy. And if you want a politician who thinks that a good photo is the most important thing, then don’t vote for me."
To laughter and applause, he commented on his failure to match Cameron's success with photo ops: "It is not just that I haven’t tried to do it, it’s not where my talents lie —as you may have noticed."
The Labour leader has been dogged by criticism about his image, with many newspapers talking in withering terms about the "Miliband problem" and whether he passes the "blink test" as a potential prime minister.
Miliband's recent photo ops have drawn mockery, in particular, after he posed with a copy of the Sun newspaper and then had to apologise to his supporters for doing so. By contrast, David Cameron famously posed with huskies in the Antarctic while in opposition, symbolising his shiny, new leadership of the 'modernised' Tories, and Ukip leader Nigel Farage is frequently snapped drinking a pint in a pub in a show of his "everyman" credentials.
Speaking at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), Miliband warned that "photo-op politics denies people a debate about the things that really matter and does deep harm to the country".
Critics seized on the Labour leader's remarks on Twitter, pointing out all the Labour leader's previous attempted photo opportunities, ranging from meeting US president Barack Obama being snapped visiting a Greggs bakery.
Miliband told an assembled audience of Labour grassroots members that he wanted to offer a "different" style of leadership which "has big ideas to change things".
"My true test of leadership is not just whether you look the part but whether you can retain your soul," he declared, before explaining that the "gold standard" of leadership that he aspired to consisted of "big ideas, principles, decency and empathy".
Miliband has previously tried to play down the importance of photo opportunities, telling the Huffington Post UK in June: "I think principles do matter more than photos ops."
The Labour leader also told HuffPost UK: "I think if people want somebody who will put good press coverage, good photo ops, before their principles, than David Cameron is clearly that person. If they want someone who will put their principles first, who thinks they are more important than photo opportunities, then I am that person.. Somebody once said it’s not the bigness of our problems that worries me, it’s the smallness of our politics."