In interviews this morning, the Labour Party leader Ed Miliband demonstrated one of the great faux pas that interviewees often make when questioned about something they’ve messed up.
On this occasion, the interviews followed yesterday’s speech by Mr. Miliband at his party’s annual conference. Rather than speaking from a written script or an autocue, Miliband chose to deliver his speech from memory. Some might applaud this approach as it departs from the often-stifling requirement to gaze at screens on either side of the speaker’s podium.
However, this approach yesterday by Mr. Miliband didn’t come off. He omitted important sections of his speech – those on the country’s deficit and on immigration, two issues that, according to opinion polls, register very highly among the concerns of voters.
After the speech, several news reports quoted Labour insiders as saying that Mr. Miliband had simply forgotten these two sections of his speech. That, at least, was honest.
What we had from Mr. Miliband himself in interviews this morning was, however, an attempt to “dress up” the reasons for this mistake by him. It didn’t work. His line of argument was that, yes, he had omitted these sections of his speech but that he writes a speech merely to provide a “framework” for what he actually says to the audience from the stage. This clearly opened him to the suspicion in the minds of many viewers and listeners that if the economic deficit and immigration – two key issues in the minds of many – were left out of his “framework”, these topics could not register very highly in Mr. Miliband’s mind and that they were way down his order of priority.
Furthermore, this weak attempt to explain his omissions left him vulnerable to persistent questioning on the same topics. On the BBC Today programme, the presenter Sarah Montague was able to point out that in a 70-minute speech there was “no mention of the deficit once”. She also hinted that Mr. Miliband did not mention immigration because his party is worried about UKIP stealing Labour voters because of the immigration issue.
Mr. Miliband would have been better off coming clean. He’d messed up. End of story.
In the interviews he gave he would have been better off admitting to this, saying something like, “We’re all human and we all make mistakes. That happened to me yesterday. I guess I was having a senior moment.”
Firstly, this approach would have sounded more authentic than his rambling dissertation about the “framework” of his speech.
Secondly, it might actually have endeared him to many voters. Admitting to a mistake like this would have resonated with viewers and listeners. “Yep, the same thing’s happened to me in the past,” might have been the reaction of many.
As it was, Eamonn Holmes – interviewing Mr. Miliband on Sky News – drew a comparison that starkly exposed Mr. Miliband’s attempts to glaze over his error. Eamonn explained to the Labour leader that on live television he occasionally makes mistakes himself. By contrast, Eamonn suggested, he admits to himself he got it wrong and “I come down hard on myself”.
In recent weeks there’s been a lot of discussion in Britain about politicians being out of touch with the public. Mr. Miliband’s attempts to wriggle out of his screw-up represented another glaring example of why politicians are often not on the same wavelength as the voters.