Miliband's Wallace speech: best defence against Tory attacks?

Labour felt it had to erect 'Iron Dome' against personal attacks being planned by Tory HQ

Column LAST UPDATED AT 10:19 ON Mon 28 Jul 2014

Ed Miliband’s 'Wallace' speech – as in "I am not from central casting. You can find people who are more square-jawed, more chiselled, look less like Wallace" - has been criticised for simply drawing attention to his defects.

But Labour strategists are satisfied that it has done the job intended: namely, to act as Labour’s 'Iron Dome' against incoming attacks launched by David Cameron’s Australian political strategist Lynton Crosby and the Tory high command.

Miliband was alerted to the threat last week that the Tories were planning a campaign of personal attacks on Miliband’s personal appearance and foibles, on his unfitness for office and on Labour’s lack of economic responsibility.

Rachel Sylvester, the Times commentator, wrote that Michael Gove – the former Times colleague who was demoted from Education Secretary to Chief Whip in the recent reshuffle– was uncomfortable with the proposed attacks.

"The personal attacks on Mr Miliband being planned will make him uncomfortable — and in his view only reinforce his party’s 'nasty' image," she said. "He was horrified by the Eastleigh by-election campaign, which presented the Tory candidate, Maria Hutchings, a mother of four who is passionate about special educational needs, as a narrow Eurosceptic obsessed by immigration."

In his 'Wallace' speech on Friday, Miliband said: "If you want a politician who thinks that a good photo is the most important thing, then don't vote for me." He added: “The current Prime Minister might take a good picture but he can’t build a country that works for you. It is not what interests him.”

Andrew Rawnsley, the Observer commentator and a close friend of the Blairites at the top of the Labour party, gave Ed's speech the thumbs-down yesterday, warning that Miliband’s likeness to the goofy, cheese-eating Wallace or his “struggles with bacon butties" were not the central reason why he has such poor ratings as a potential prime minister.

"That," said Rawnsley, "has much more to do with the problem that his speech conspicuously did not confront: the widespread belief, fair or not, that he can't take tough decisions and the lack of confidence in Labour as a team that can be trusted with the economy.”

But is Rawnsley right? Stefan Stern of the leftie Labour List website blogged: “It will now be just a bit harder – but only a bit – for the lobby and broadcasters to run endless pieces about Miliband’s appearance and demeanour.”

Meanwhile, an organisation of Conservative women has warned Lynton Crosby that mocking the Labour leader for personal foibles will only backfire and put female voters off backing the Tories in May 2015. The Observer quoted Niki Molnar, national chair of the Conservative Women's Organisation, saying women in particular were "put off when elections descend into identity politics".

Whether Tory high command will take the women's advice is doubtful. Party strategists appear to believe the Tories must play nasty in order to stop Miliband becoming prime minister by – as they see it – default.

They have three fears:

Fear One is that Ukip will split the Tory vote and let Labour in. As the Daily Telegraph reports today, Labour’s election campaign team has persuaded Miliband that Ukip gains are good for Labour’s prospects. That means Labour could go easy on Ukip in the election campaign.

Fear Two is that Labour's in-built advantage of up to 20 seats due to the quirks of constituency boundaries will make the difference and hand Miliband victory. (In a nutshell, Tories argue that many urban seats – where Labour traditionally scores well – are less populated than rural seats, where the Conservatives are more likely to succeed: which means that Labour needs fewer votes across the country to win a Commons majority.)

Fear Three is that improving UK growth, and being considered by voters to be generally "safer" on managing the economy, won’t be enough for the Tories to hold on to power. In 1997, Labour trailed the Conservatives by seven points on "managing the economy" but still won the 1997 general election.

More cheese, Wallace? ·