If you’re going to wreck someone else’s dreams, you’d better have a pretty good excuse. Sometimes, it can’t be helped. Sometimes, eggs have to be broken to make delicious meringues, even if one of those eggs turns out to be your brother. You have to break those eggs, because, although you’ve never actually made a meringue, you know you’ve got it in you to make the most delicious meringue in the world.
To be honest, most of us don’t think like this. Some of us, for example, know that we can just about make an edible meal if we have to, but we also know that we’re not likely to win The Great British Bake Off, even if we’d ever watched it, which we haven’t. We know, because it’s now more important to know the rules of TV talent shows than of European elections, that you can only win a competition for making puddings if the pudding you make is pretty damn good. You can’t win a competition for making puddings just because you think you might be good at puddings. The proof of the pudding, as William Camden said in Remaines of a Greater Worke, Concerning Britaine, is in the eating. The proof of the pudding isn’t the image you have of a pudding in your head.
When Ed Milband won the Labour leadership contest four years, after losing the first three rounds and scraping in on the fourth, he must have had a very nice pudding in his head. It might, perhaps, have been one of those big, squashy meringues you get in artisan bakeries near Hampstead Heath. (To live near an artisan bakery, it helps to have a house that’s worth £2.3m, a property “portfolio” of £4.5m, and an annual household income of about £340,000, but Ed seems to have all of these, so he doesn’t need to worry about that.) Perhaps the meringues were served with some kind of mascarpone crema, gently sweetened with Manuka honey, and with some of those big, fat raspberries you get at the farmers’ market, down the road.
Perhaps, in fact, Ed Miliband has only ever bought food at a farmers’ market, which is why he has no idea how much things cost in a normal shop. Perhaps he has only ever had bircher muesli with grated apple for breakfast, which is why he lost all motor skills when he had to face a bacon roll. Ed Miliband didn’t eat the bacon roll in the way you’d normally eat a bacon roll: on your way to work, with a handful of Nurofen and a sachet of Resolve. He ate it in front of a big group of photographers, just before the local and European elections, in a flower market at 6.30am. Perhaps he thought it was the kind of thing you’d eat if you were working class. Or perhaps he thought it was a way of sending out a message about immigration. I’m the child of immigrants, he might be saying to people who don’t want their children to get halal school meals, but look at me! I eat your food. I feel your pain.
The trouble was that it was his pain we felt as he sank his big teeth into a thick wodge of meat, and felt the grease dribbling down his chin. If you want to see a picture, you can find it here. It’s hard to know why his eyes looked like the Devil’s when he took that bite, or why his mouth looked like the mouth of someone who had just had a lobotomy and was trying hard to remember his own name. Perhaps his advisors had been telling him that zombies were now a big thing. (Like, for example, the “zombies”, with white faces and bandaged limbs, who recently marched past my flat. When I asked them why they were marching, they said they were trying to stop a Sainsburys from opening across the road. I was thrilled to hear that a Sainsburys might be opening across the road and told them I’d be happy to organise a march to hurry it up.)
Perhaps Ed Miliband ate the bacon sandwich for the same reason he this week posed with a copy of The Sun. It wasn’t clear whether this meant that the war he said he had launched on Rupert Murdoch was over, or whether it was more like the war in Syria, where everyone says it’s terrible, but nobody does anything at all. It looked as though he posed withThe Sun because The Sun was supporting the England football team, even though everyone knows that “our” chances of winning the World Cup are about the same as Nick Clegg’s of moving into Number 10.
When you look as though you shop in artisan bakeries, and spend your evenings talking about “predistribution”, it might seem like quite a good idea to look as though you’ll be watching the World Cup. You might, for example, have had quite a few lectures from backbenchers about the fact that your party’s messages didn’t seem to be “playing” all that well with people who were once a bit embarrassed to vote for a man called Tony but can now vote for a man called Nigel with no shame.
But when you do decide to pose with a copy of The Sun, it’s probably a good idea not to look as though you’re in a video made by Somali pirates, and are trying to pretend, for your family’s sake, that your kidnappers are treating you well. And when lots of people in Liverpool, and most of your party activists, think this is a betrayal, it’s probably better not to say that you’re sorry “if” you’ve caused offence. If, a quarter of a century after it happened, people won’t accept a real apology from The Sun, for telling lies about people who died, it doesn’t seem all that likely that they’ll accept an apology that isn’t an apology from someone for something he did a few hours before.
Perhaps what people in Liverpool saw, which is what everyone else in the country would also have seen, was a man who seems very, very unhappy in his own skin. This is a man who says he has a lot of “intellectual confidence” and then hires very expensive people to tell him what to say. He’s a man who says he wants to help the “squeezed middle”, but who seems to think (in this interview on the BBC) that “the middle” is 88 per cent.. He’s a man who says he wants to transform the country, but whose only policy, after four years, seems to be to tell energy companies to fix their rates.
This country has the fastest growing economy in Western Europe. It has more people in work than since records began. If Ed Miliband thinks he can do better than that, we’d all be very pleased, but since the election is less than a year away, he’d better give us a tiny hint about how.
Confidence can be very nice, but when you go to see a brain surgeon, you care an awful lot more about skill. If Ed Miliband has the skills to run a country, he certainly hasn’t shown it. Whatever vision he had when he trod on his brother’s dreams – and probably broke his mother’s heart – is still stuck in his head. Perhaps he has a brilliant plan. Perhaps he’ll tell us, without sounding like a robot or looking like a zombie, what it is. At the moment, it seems to be something along the lines of: I haven’t yet worked out the recipe, but let them eat meringue.