In truth, it wasn’t the magenta bus that bothered me. I might not have chosen to sally forth in an emblazoned, bright pink people carrier, but actually, Labour’s initiative to engage woman-o to woman-o in the general election isn’t the worst idea they’ve ever had. After all, they pinched it from Women for Independence.
Getting out and engaging women in spaces they feel comfortable in is something Women for Indy’s thousands of female supporters did to considerable effect during the referendum campaign. Here in Edinburgh, we did school gates, drop-ins in cafes, at homes, wee socials and my favourite, outside bingo halls (with Yes bingo dabbers, no less) because we went to where women were, rather than expect them to come to us.
My problem with the wheeze was it being styled as the “kitchen table” tour. Why? According to Lucy Powell, one of its shiny, bright young things in its election team, Labour was taking its message [to] women voters because “they wanted to have a conversation about the kitchen table, around the kitchen table” rather than “having an economy that just reaches the boardroom”. Shades of eat your cereal all round.
Suddenly, those shots of Ed and Justine in their kitchen make sense.
Except as we now know, it wasn’t their kitchen. It was the second kitchen, the one off the living room where tea and snacks are prepared. But take a close look. Does this look like any kitchen or even, snack-preparation-area you know? Where’s the clutter? The personality? The photos of family, the letters from school, the fruit bowl? There’s not even a half-full laundry basket, never mind an actual kitchen table.
As an attempt to portray Ed as just a regular family guy, it fails miserably. He looks like he’d rather be anywhere else. He looks like he never even knew the room existed (as it might not). And who has two kitchens in their house anyway?
That’ll be a man who lives in a great big pile in a des res part of London, far from where his constituency is, incidentally, in scandal-laden Doncaster (one of the increasing number of longstanding Labour councils up north with serious issues in terms of its track record on protecting children).
I read the big, glossy interview with Ed in that week’s Guardian, where he was shadowed by a reporter around the country. I read it twice, in fact, keen to glean details that might bring me to like the man. I left disliking him more than ever.
And the only conclusion I can reach is that the man is a phoney. A professional politician who has spent all his adult life in the Westminster bubble preparing for power. All that empathising with the audience, using first names? A longstanding technique which can be learned. It’s well documented that his brother did so. He posited soundbites – I worry about not seeing my kids enough (who were otherwise largely absent from the piece); stamina being a challenge, but with twisted logic, relishing the 16 hour days – and if it was all to make him seem human, well, bits did, but the overall impression was of a team crafting a set piece for the delectation of the intellectual Left. I found it curious that the tour didn’t bother to call in on his constituency: does he go there at all, or is it just a place to weigh the votes?
But I got no sense of a man with a plan, other than to get to Number 10. He may be willing to stand up to vested interests. In fact, I applaud him for doing so, but will he as a Prime Minister un-vest them? I think not. The Milibands’ wee turn on the inheritance of the family home might not be tax avoidance on the scale that attracts headlines, but it still smacks of the entitled few entitling themselves in a way the rest of us can’t.
No, Ed Miliband is establishment Labour personified. And if voters elsewhere aren’t turned off by the prospect of him and his party leading us, then here in Scotland, the electorate is making clear what it thinks. They are turning away in their droves, because they have a better, more grounded, more real alternative to vote for.
Kitchen-gate speaks to all of this and exposes the “kitchen table” tour in all its condescending gory. As our own First Minister is demonstrating, women are more than capable of dealing with the economy as an issue at boardroom level. They are not just concerned with economics as they affect what they put on their kitchen table, but with how the state of our nation’s finances impact on everyone’s prospects, especially future generations.
What these gimmicks suggest is that Labour is the modern day equivalent of the Wizard of Oz. For sure, there is a man behind the curtain, pulling levers, wowing the headline writers and the news makers – think Jim Murphy here – but take a peek and the charade is exposed. There is no substance. No one knows what Labour stands for, as I have written ad nauseum on this blog for years now.
The Labour President of COSLA, Councillor David O’Neill, tries to resurrect Johann Lamont’s “something for nothing” narrative which castigates universalism, only to be slapped down almost before he’s finished his speech by Jim Murphy, who restates Scottish Labour’s recent re-conversion to many of the policies it introduced while in government in the first place.
Rachel Reeves, Labour’s work and pensions spokesperson, gets herself in a total fankle trying to explain what Labour would do about the rise of foodbanks if in power. “Labour are a party of working people, formed by and for working people”. Helpfully, Kate Green MP took to Twitter to interpret her remarks, differently from how John McTernan, now installed in Jim Murphy’s team, did so.
If Labour doesn’t know what it stands for, how can the rest of us? If Labour doesn’t say what it means clearly, or mean what it say, why should voters believe it and trust it with their votes? Meaningless gestures like “kitchen table” tours and toe-curling photo opps in empty, colourless rooms pretending to be the heart of the home expose all of Labour woes.
Whether it’s a kitchen, dining or coffee table, Labour has nothing to put on it but gloss.