First posted: 5th January, 2012
[Image above: Ed Miliband with a sincere hand movement.]
Many people have described Ed Miliband as ‘weird’. He is weird. Or, at the least, he looks weird. But don’t hold that against him. Socrates was an ugly brute. Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, looked plain and dull, not like a sick killer. (What do sick killers look like?) In addition, the votes Miliband has received, both from the Labour Party and elsewhere, were presumably not votes for his good looks. I know that the physiognomists and phrenologists did believe that a person’s character, or indeed his very soul or being, was expressed by the face... and also by the shape of the head. This idea more or less died out come the 20th century. The Nazis, for example, were more concerned with blood than physiognomy. (Then again, it’s hard to disentangle blood and the ‘phenotypes’ of blood, such as facial features and hair colour.)
I believe that Miliband is indeed image-conscious. It’s hard not to be after the extreme example of Tony Blair - whose image was largely a media creation, or at least the creation of spin doctors or PR enforcers.
Take those standardised hand movements which many leading politicians, especially Cameron and Clegg, use today. They overuse such hand movements. This makes them almost Mediterranean in style. These hand movements, I’m sure, are either used to symbolise extreme sincerity or the fact that the MP is a prime example of the True Statesman (in the mould of 19th century leaders or of Churchill later). Of course, because Clegg, Cameron and the rest use hand movements - and other gimmicks - all the time, even when talking about the price of bread, they come across as insincere and manufactured - the exact opposite of what these people want.
[Image right: sincere hand movment and teeth.]
This image fixation was largely imported from the United States and taken up by politicians such as Thatcher and - most certainly - Tony Blair. However, Blair’s teeth were never as shiny as his counterparts’ teeth in the US. His very big mouth, or very wide mouth, could have displayed some lovely pristine-white teeth had he spent more time on dental imagery.
I would advise Miliband to use hand movements only when they come naturally to him or when the subject matter deserves such behavioural expressions. In fact, genuine hand movements should occur without too much thought, which is true with Italians and whatnot. Fake behaviourese can be spotted from a mile away.
Miliband should also use glottal stops - and other examples of Estuary English - a lot less than he does (as did Tony Blair). He has acknowledged that he’s ‘uncool’ and clearly his moments of Essex-man-in-a-pub come across as awkward or insincere. If he likes ‘geeky jumpers and big glasses’, he should wear such things - even in the House of Commons! Actually, I don’t think that will quite work.
The hand movements and uniformity of suit-choice (as well as uniformity of age nowadays) display our machine-created modern politician, not the ‘human image’ Miliband would so love to have. Still, you can always fake sincerity or adopt the old-style working-class persona of Dennis Skinner MP (the 'Beast of Bolsover').