Ed Miliband's "substance not image" speech met with negative reaction

Labour leader Ed Miliband's speech claiming he offers substance instead of photo-ops has met with a negative reaction on social media and been slammed by Conservative PR man Lord Bell.

Ed Miliband: Frequently criticised by the Tories
Ed Miliband: Frequently criticised by the Tories

In a speech to launch Labour’s summer campaign, Miliband tackled his image problem head-on by admitting he would not be "able to compete" with David Cameron’s use of image politics and saying he wanted to "offer something different".

Miliband said: "If you want a politician who thinks a good photo is the most important thing then don't vote for me."

The initial social media reaction, based on more than 9,000 tweets ranging from an hour before to two hours after the midday speech on Friday, comprised 32 per cent negative mentions and 16 per cent positive, according to analysis by Impact Social. 

"Positive tweets were largely driven by a concerted effort by Labour MPs and activists to enthusiastically support their leader," said Impact Social director Will Brown.

"Thirty-two per cent of mentions were negative in sentiment, with many highlighting the hypocrisy of criticising photo-op politics in the same week that Miliband travelled to Washington for a photo with President Obama. A lot of tweeters shared photos of the Labour leader with The Sun newspaper and TV stars to illustrate their point."

Miliband chose to preview his speech using images of a bacon sandwich, paparazzi, David Cameron’s hug a husky shot and a pint of beer, which received a "slightly limp" 266 retweets and 84 favourites, according to Brown.

Mentions from press outlets made up 25 per cent of tweets, indicating that the speech was widely reported despite the criticism.

The Labour leader's strategy was predictably criticised by Margaret Thatcher's PR man and Bell Pottinger chairman Lord Bell, in The Mail on Sunday, as "madness".

Bell claimed the speech "smacked of hypocrisy" and that it was a "serious mistake" for a politician to draw attention to his own failings.

"The aim of PR should be to highlight strengths and downplay inadequacies. Miliband was doing the exact opposite."

He added: "Miliband’s biggest error, however, is to believe a distinction can be made between image and substance, as if they are two separate concepts. The truth is that image is always based on reality. In his case, the public thinks he is weird because he is weird."

However, Pagefield associate partner and Labour supporter Tom Bage was more positive about the speech.

"Can a politician use a performance in the media to divert attention from their performance in the media? Against the backdrop of a Sun photocall or an Obama brush-by, it’s a difficult sell for Miliband – but I think Labour and Ed did a decent job on his speech and the follow-up, blending some self-deprecating humour with some honest self-reflection.

"Will it work? It could, but only if Ed spends the next nine months being authentic, rather than talking about being authentic – and in a brutal election campaign, that’s easier said than done."

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