LABOUR’S parliamentary candidate in Hampstead and Kilburn was invited to introduce Ed Miliband for a ‘summer campaign launch’ speech at the Royal Institute of British Architects in Portland Place this morning, leading to some back row whispering about whether he might see her as a quick riser into the future cabinet he dreams of leading. The most suspicious see a little circle developing, with Ed clearly on good terms with Tulip, and both of them apparently admiring Sir Keir Starmer, one of the possible candidates to stand in Holborn and St Pancras now Frank Dobson has announced his retirement. While few people bolt straight into a cabinet a day after becoming an MP for the first time – and of course a Labour victory in the general election is not something to gamble the housekeeping on – little appearances like this put people like Tulip on the watch list. She networks well within the party, and by the end of this event people were coming to her and asking her for her card, rather than the other way around.
Instantly on the radar, the unsympathetic Guido Fawkes quickly summoned up the old picture of her meeting Vladimir Putin, a snap that remains embarrassing, especially at the rate it was retweeted as the day went on. It was not, however, as if this was not all played out during her selection when doubters thought the existence of the photo might derail her chances.
Events like this certainly help Tulip, who must still shed an image retained in some quarters of Camden as being big on selfies, but swimming on policy. It is an extreme to say she is either of those things, even if we are yet to learn from which stones of Labour’s past she is really cut. A confident cameo role at RIBA nevertheless was another step towards graduating from the hairbrush speeches she used to give in the more deadened atmosphere of the council chamber. Her rivals, with hustings in mind, should note that it was all quite accomplished.
Yet it was ironic too, it has to be said, that Tulip, with so many selfies with star politicians under her belt and a purr whenever her picture is in the paper, was warming up the crowd given the nature of Miliband’s big announcement, which today was simply that he would no longer try to compete with David Cameron on ‘photo op politics’. Firstly, he said, because he had come to realise that he would lose such a contest but more importantly – lucky for him -that it wasn’t what the voters wanted while searching for the serious, big ideas that can haul us all out of these straightened times.
He attacked the PM for hugging huskies and hoodies in photo set-ups and not following through with meaningful policy, and made predictable self-depreciating jokes about his bacon sandwich eating abilities and Wallace from Wallace And Gromit. People didn’t want a leader from central casting, he assured us, and how voters would not be fooled by chiselled jaws.
At this point, I guess we were not to think of the chiselly cut of Barack Obama – who Miliband met last week in what was certainly not, definitely no way, no no way, a play of photo op politics of his own – and the dashing image the President can rock with his sleeves rolled up and his three-pointer b-balling. He’s shown how everyday pazazz can generate some helpful fandom.
Before our minds could drift on in that direction, however, the scene was broken up, typically, by Channel 4’s Michael Crick at the side of the room who suggested the whole no to photo op politics speech was just a photo op in itself and that Miliband knew that in reality he could not survive without press call pictures, and then by a rather frustrated woman in the back row who asked what the ‘big ideas’ Labour would be pushing actually were. This did not trigger a wave of new policy announcements.
But Miliband was generous with his time afterwards, as we were invited to sit in with him in one of RIBA’s plush boardrooms, and he did not limit us to just a quickie question, the more familiar practice when senior politicians are confronted with local press nerds. It was interesting, though, that he did seem to agree to a suggestion that the charges of syntheticity he was making against Cameron’s press operation could have just as easily been levelled at Labour when they were last in government, or at least Alastair Campbell’s machine, which kept Tony Blair away from bacon butties. Surely New Labour can be held responsible in some part for creating the picture, sound-byte led political culture that he was decrying?
“I don’t think you can pin this down to one particular person or one particular era,” he insisted. “I think it’s a problem that has grown over a long time and I think Alastair himself would say you need a different politics for the time now. In a way, this is a choice about what happens at the next election, not what happened at previous elections.”
And no – he didn’t reveal any preferred choice for the parliamentary selection tussle Frank Dobson is leaving behind in Holborn and St Pancras, even though we went through the motions of asking.