Here is my new piece at PunditWire about the tragic fate of UK Labour Party leader Ed Miliband:

One of the best quotes about politics and democracy is attributed to US Senator Russell B Long: Democracy is like a raft. It won’t sink, but your feet are always wet.

Here in the United Kingdom our “first past the post” voting system produces some amazing anomalies.  For example, people not familiar with the Splendour that is Westminster Democracy might think it superficially unreasonable that the UK Independence Party received nearly 4,000,000 votes but won only one parliamentary seat, whereas the Scottish National Party received 1,500,000 votes yet won 56 parliamentary seats.

On the other hand, our system has one extraordinary advantage over the proportional representation systems seen in many politically stagnant parts of Europe, where is it almost impossible to dislodge party leaders in any public election process. In the UK senior politicians who previously have enjoyed relatively comfortable and dry positions on the raft find themselves abruptly thrown into the river, to sink or swim like the rest of us. This latest British General Election produced a magnificent crop of now ex-rafters, including the leaders of three of the top four British political parties.  Splash! Gone!

The key problem with Ed Miliband was not his intellect, but his desperate striving to show matey toughness that belied his posh London middle-class socialist instincts. Never more obvious than in this calamitous TV interview. Marvel at the complete weirditude of this answer (his words and eccentric intensity), his to what is admittedly quite a tricky question for any Western politician: Are you tough enough to take on Putin?

As I see it:

Miliband is pushed to explain why Vladimir Putin would not eat him for breakfast, and he plunges into an exposition of faux-toughness and over-rehearsed intensity that only goes to show why Vladimir Putin would indeed eat him for breakfast.

Pro Tip to politicians: don’t answer questions about your toughness by insisting in a wild-eyed that you’re really tough! Right?!

Imagine someone asking Clint Eastwood whether he’s tough enough. He won’t say “Look, I’ve got what it takes, right! I stood up to that Lee Van Cleef and really showed him a few things about how tough I am, I can tell you! Right?”

Less is more.

Satirists and cartoonists flourish by grossly exaggerating what they take to be a key characteristic of their target and using that exaggeration to promote a deeper truth about said target. They usually hit on (and reinforce) something important in the way that person comes across. David Cameron is Too Posh. Barack Obama is Too Haughty. Richard Nixon was Too Tricky.

Ed Miliband became unelectable by being credibly presentable time and again as Too Gormless:

Oh dear.


Political leaders do need to build a credible robust public persona. But by far the best way to do that is emphasise your strengths and own your weaknesses, for better or worse, not come across as always striving to be something you’re not.

Yesterday Ed Miliband came to the end of a truly appalling few hours during which his hopes soared, then were dashed. When he stepped honourably off the raft into aqueous political oblivion, his Labour colleague Harriet Harman said this:

I would like to pay tribute to Ed Miliband for his leadership of the Labour Party and to express the gratitude that party members feel for his leadership and for his decency, his commitment and his constant striving for a fairer country

Both he and Ms Harman both knew that UK politicians talk about ‘decency’ and ‘commitment’ only when they have nothing to say about competence.