We need to go on fewer holidays, was the urgent message of Ed Miliband on Tuesday morning, in keeping with his time-honoured gift of knowing just what appeals to the electorate. We need to go on fewer holidays and eat less meat and walk more and do more work; essentially, could we all just be a little more miserable, please? But focus on the positives while doing so? That would be great.
Ed Miliband is a man whose ability to put his foot in it is truly quite extraordinary and actually rather beautiful to watch. Ed faffed and spluttered as John Humphreys told him bluntly that his trapped-in-the-UK, tofu-eating, sore-footed utopia wouldn’t make a blind bit of difference to the rest of the word. Ed ended up bleating about “moral authority” with the self-righteous tone of the kid at the front of the class who’s praying that his classmates mocking him will one day be languishing in a jail cell while he is achieving his starry-eyed dreams of “making a difference”. He then got well and truly torn down to size later on, when Emma Barnett looked unimpressed as Ed was forced to mumble his way through an admission that no, he hadn’t got himself an electric car or installed solar panels on his house, and muttered that he’d have to get around to it.
Of course, Ed Miliband wouldn’t be Ed Miliband if he wasn’t being a giant hypocrite – he’s managed it over his second kitchen and his inheritance, why not try it with climate change too? Yes, as Ed sat there and lectured families about going on a trip to the Costa Brava, he was conveniently forgetting to mention that he himself, of course, could use a break from holidays themselves. Hell, they’re rather petty, bourgeois occupations. Little things to give up. I suppose that’s how you see them when you’ve been on five in a little over a year.
During Mr Miliband’s five holidays to Essaouira, in Morocco (Christmas 2017), The United States (April 2018), Italy (August 2018), Malaga, Spain (October 2018), and Iceland (February 2019), I doubt he was dwelling on climate change. There was no one there for him to lecture, after all – though perhaps I speak too soon, as he revealed that he is all too willing to take his two young children on climate change marches and drag them to deathly-dull talks on the problems of plastic, which is probably an improvement on Mr Miliband’s own childhood lectures. Speaking of his kids, they, inadvertently, provided another reason for Mr Miliband to be cheerful, as he frequently chants on his podcast with the cringeworthy gusto of an intoxicated uncle trying to join in the YMCA-he didn’t have to pay for their accommodation on the US trip, and even managed to wangle them free tickets to one of the most anticipated Red Sox games of the season.
But Mr Miliband, stammering and gasping like a fish on Politics Live as he tried awkwardly to manoeuvre his way around the stain his own massive carbon footprint has left in the atmosphere, in his upper-middle class, North London-lefty ignorance, really does manage to encapsulate the problems a lot of people have with the climate change and left wing movements. It’s a problem he’s always had, dating back to the moments in 2015 when he tried to act as though having a £2.5m house was rather a normal thing, and that trying to hide the nanny downstairs was a perfectly upfront, straightforward thing to do rather than the disappointing climax in the plot of a BBC Victorian three-night drama. God, if multi-millionaire Tony Blair, who practically clinks when he moves, could manage to convince us all he was a man of the people for three elections, you’d think anyone else could, but no – Miliband couldn’t even manage that.
It was a strangely sad sight, watching Miliband attempt to ingratiate himself with voters. It struck me a few times that we were watching the kid who had desperately tried to fit in with the others but had just never quite been good enough, and were being reminded again and again that he’d still never quite be good enough.
But there are similarities between Miliband’s performance in that election and the climate change movement’s current howling on our TV screens. Yes, we accept climate change needs to be dealt with. But, as Simon Danczuk pointed out in 2015 (whatever his other sins), the electorate saw Ed Miliband as more of a toff than David Cameron. So the UK public are currently seeing Extinction Rebellion as more of an irritation than climate change. To royally tick off commuters is one thing; to royally tick off London commuters suggests something of a death wish. (And of course Mr Miliband supports Extinction Rebellion. Why wouldn’t he? It’s a chance to pose for a selfie and feel like he’s impacted the world for half a second.) And to be accosted by a bunch of middle-class, pontificating eco-warriors with spray paint on their arms and their hands stuck to pavements somehow doesn’t really win most people round.
The sight of Emma Thompson, with the impeccable timing of arriving on the day the protesters were earnestly preaching on the dangers of flights, hopping off a plane couldn’t have been made up. I don’t know if Emma thought her plea that she avoids flying when she can would have made us all flock to her side in sympathy. From Jacob Rees-Mogg, she faced what must be, to her, the ultimate insult – he couldn’t even remember her name.
And Mr Miliband’s flights are in much the same vein. The British public don’t give a damn about a Hollywood actress pitching up to lecture the little people about what scum we all are for going to Spain for a week. Likewise, some politician lecturing us with his customary wide-eyed looks and his earnest hand gestures isn’t making us all want to grab a banner.
And that’s the thing the climate change movement don’t get yet. They’re not perceived as ordinary people, fighting for everyone’s lives. They’re seen as a nuisance who genuinely expect families to be grateful for their Easter holidays being destroyed. They’re damaging their own movement, even though their message has a point. I don’t know if the twenty kids standing there with a banner at Heathrow, snivelling on the TV screens, genuinely thought that those at home would shake their heads and suck their teeth at the cruelty of the passengers not immediately ripping up their plane tickets. I can tell you that in our house, we could not help laughing at the hysterical question earnestly painted on their banner. (‘Are We The Last Generation?’ God, that was almost enough to make me hope we are.)
And that’s the thing Ed Miliband still doesn’t – and never did – grasp. Either he’s just a massive, unrepentant hypocrite or he genuinely is trying to ignore the fact that everyone else being forced to go without holidays isn’t likely to relish him taking five trips on a whim while lecturing them.
I’ll enjoy my next holiday. I’ll not give Ed Miliband’s moralising a thought when I take it. I mean, it’s exactly not five, is it?