Soapbox theatre


Ed Milliband has been standing on a wooden pallet to make some high street speeches in the run up to the local elections. Something the Daily Mail describes as “cutting a rather ridiculous figure”.

0ba91_article-0-195E41E7000005DC-399_634x400But the Finanical Times thought Miliband “appeared to have recovered some of his poise [from a disastrous radio interview] as he stood on a box taking questions from passers-by in the town square” in Crawley, and he was attracting crowds of 200.

Crawley. Photo: Crawley News

As the Independent’s Donald Macintyre points out:

John Major used a soap box during the 1992 election (…) But by 21st-century norms, Mr Miliband’s latest campaigning technique, of setting up in a town’s high street and talking to anyone who will listen, is positively unorthodox. What gives it an edge, in an era of heavily controlled electioneering, is the pleasurable anticipation that anything could happen.

And indeed in Cleveleys, north of Blackpool, Miliband was heckled “over failings on immigration” by a man exclaiming “You’re all full of shit.” Although Labour members came to Miliband’s defence, the Labour leader Miliband “asked them to hear him out as he stepped off his pallet and walked up to the man” (a bold symbolic action) where the two spke and “Within a few minutes they shook hands over the telephone box and parted as friends.”

Long Eaton, Nottinghamshire. Photo: Rui Vieira/PA Wire

The Guardian’s Michael White writes that this encounter “reflects a similar search for real, spontaneous emotion that connects leader with voter.”

“In an age of market-tested, made-for-TV politics, cautiously managerial and technocratic, voters long for authenticity, real or bogus. [and] Those lacking such thespian skills search for props, pallets or people.

As the thespian shine wore off Tony Blair, he resorted to his “masochism strategy” in the search for authenticity: being filmed for TV news while nurses or cancer victims abused him roundly.

election-2001-blair-nurses“if pollsters tell a leader he is seen as nerdy, metropolitan or out of touch, he/she needs to do more. There is a case for humorous, impromptu platforms – flatbed trucks are good; tanks better. And few forget George Bush with bullhorn and firefighter at the 9/11 site

bush-bullhornor Germany’s Willie Brandt, falling to his knees at the Warsaw Ghetto [as an act of contrition]. Brilliant theatre; also authentic, and probably spontaneous.”

Bundeskanzler Brandt in Polen 1970 / Kniefall im Warschauer Ghetto


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