I was lucky enough to be a part of the BBC Free Speech audience yesterday, when Ed Miliband was invited. It was an interesting experience and encompassed questions from the depths of domestic discourse, to the far reaches of foreign policy. This is my take.
When asked about not promising a referendum on the European Union, Ed held his ground, clarifying that he wanted a reformed Europe and this would be less likely to negotiate if Britain had one foot out of the door.
When put on these kind of live debates, many politicians try to agree with every member of the audience to a certain degree. They will bend and weave their policies to fit what they perceive as popular opinion in that moment. Some call it charm. It is dishonesty.
Yet even when questions received roars of applause, like the legalising of cannabis or the Europe referendum, Ed held true to his convictions and predetermined thoughts. This may seem like a trivial display of honesty, but it is a massive temptation to override as a politician. It serves him credibility, if nothing else.
When quizzed on whether he could be trusted, his answer relied on the fact that all of his promises were feasible. His cut of tuition fees to £6,000 instead of £3,000 proves this, he says. That he would not promise a greater cut, even though he would love to, because it could not be financially guaranteed.
As for my own question, which was about Labour's planned continuation of austerity from the current government, that it is a betrayal of the working class in that it shrinks the public sector, one of the main sources of secure employment. Miliband told me that yes, Labour do plan to make cuts, but that they would be counterbalanced by effective tax policies and other mitigating factors.
He continued by highlighting that this is in contrast to the Tory cuts which have no corresponding considerations and would take spending back to the 1930s level, before we had the NHS. It was a satisfying answer in that it asserts Labour in the better of two nonetheless evil austerity plans- or the more efficient of them anyhow.
When asked about his "awkward" appearance and representation by the media, Ed did not plead vanity and deny it. He humbly told us to judge him by his record.
This record includes one of the most effective opposition governments in history: forcing issues like the phone-hacking scandal, standing up against Rupert Murdoch (which no one else dares to do) in regard to the BSkyB shares, and advocating the recognition of Palestinian statehood pursuant to the two state solution.
Ed was also described by the Telegraph in 2009 as one of the "saints" of the parliamentary expenses scandal. Even fewer know that he called Gordon Brown in 2003, from the U.S where he was on sabbatical to Harvard, to voice his disapproval with the Iraq war- one of few British politicians to do so.
So when told that "some view you as a weak leader", Ed responded with a diligent "they are wrong," and had already brought up his climate change representative endeavours at the Copenhagen summit in 2009.
Miliband's appearance on BBC Free Speech was dignified, eloquent, convincing, and most importantly, genuine. He asked everyone for their names before responding and marked each question with a direct answer rooted in his personal views, unswayed by the audience's reaction. He catered to his honest beliefs over and above perceived popular opinion- which I emphasise, is a big deal in this context. You can feel the pressure by a raging audience when you sit in a live show. Numbers are indeed a force to be reckoned with.
Yes, the Labour Party may have its shortcomings. Before 2010 and perhaps even now. But the war on appearance waged by the media against Ed, was proven to me by this show, to be a fallacy rooted in perverse imaginations and an agenda of defamation rather than any substantial misgivings.
After Thursday, irrespective of my views on austerity, immigration, and the living wage, I can confidently say that if you wanted to vote Labour- and somehow manifested doubt about Ed's capacity for leadership from the media- you truly have nothing to fear. Vote how you intended to.
Ed Miliband has every possibility to be a good, even great, Prime Minister.
The rest is up to democracy.