Ed Miliband, according to the right-wing press, is both an impotent, awkward geek and a powerful, sex-crazed, fratricidal lunatic. He is a strange mix of appeasement Neville Chamberlain and Crimea-seizing Vladimir Putin. He is, according to these tabloids, the impotent one who - despite his supposed impotence - is the gravest threat to Britain. Ed, in reality, is probably none of the above. He is, rather, just another left-wing leader who has been vehemently demonised by the right-wing press.
The most recent ad hominem attack from the tabloids concerned Miliband's sex life. The Daily Mail pretty much ran a story that read: Ed has a penis, and he isn't afraid to use it. Whatever purpose these revelations were supposed to serve - a misguided attempt to make Miliband look sex-crazed perhaps - they inexorably failed. These criticisms had the opposite effect: they were humanising. Weird Ed all of a sudden became somewhat normal. Nonetheless, it was a nice try from the right-wing press in a desperate time. The tabloids have a proclivity to resort to the crudest form of demonising when they're worried. And they are clearly worried.
Every Labour leader of the past fifty years has faced similar criticisms - perhaps with a slight exception for Tony Blair due to his media cajolery and general right-wing ideology. Neil Kinnock made the ghastly mistake of being a Welsh, ginger, balding, immigrant-loving trade union stooge. Not entirely his fault, of course, and the immigrant-loving trade union rhetoric was pretty far from the truth. Nevertheless, this petty demonising worked. Polls suggested a slight Labour victory in the 1992 general election, but John Major ended up strolling to Downing Street. That year it truly was 'The Sun Wot Won It.'
Michael Foot was, as the papers never tired of remarking, an ardent, hopelessly quixotic socialist. That wasn't his main flaw. His main flaw, according to the right-wing tabloids, was his choice of coat for the 1981 cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday. In all fairness, it was a terrible coat - fittingly called a 'donkey jacket'. Whether Foot deserved such a grotesque campaign of hate due to one poor sartorial decision, however, is certainly worth questioning. The Daily Mail, writing just after Michael Foot's death, ran the tagline: An incurable romantic (Pity he was wrong about everything). Even in death, it seems, there is no rest for the wicked.
Miliband, like every left-wing leader, has made several ostensible mistakes in the eyes of the right-wing tabloids. His father was a Marxist who fought in World War Two despite supposedly hating Britain. Ed's consumption of a bacon sandwich - like Foot's jacket - was in bad taste. And like Neil Kinnock, he doesn't look or sound the part. Superficially resembling Wallace and sounding like Gromit's chew toy is strangely akin to being Welsh and ginger.
The history of the tabloids' demonisation of Labour leaders is an interesting one. None of these criticisms should matter in politics, but they do. Miliband is just the latest victim of a tirade of abuse that stems back to at least Attlee. There is no escape, yet Miliband can limit the damage. How does he perform this insourmountable feat? Easy. He has to be normal, but not too normal. Confident, but not too confident. And, in these final, important weeks, he can't do or say anything drastic. As I mentioned, easy.
Lyndon Johnson once said: 'If one morning I walked on top of the water across the Potomac River, the headline that afternoon would read: President Can't Swim.' Miliband shouldn't try to walk on water and God knows what he would look like flapping around in the Thames. Miliband instead needs to avoid awarding the right-wing press ammunition. If Miliband - the weak, sex-crazed, fratricidal lunatic - can achieve this, then he might do quite well when Britons make their way to the ballot box in a few weeks' time.