Sketch: EdM's questionable answer session

At least he enjoyed himself
At least he enjoyed himself

Ed Miliband enjoyed his Q&A session with Labour members and ordinary people far too much. "Harder, harder!" he nearly yelled at one point. This was something new in politics, that's for sure.

By Alex Stevenson

"We'll find out in an hour or so whether we'd like it to be a one-off," Ed Miliband, or EdM as he is known in the twittersphere, said tentatively at the beginning of this evening's event. What did transpire was certainly surprising. Surely even the most pessimistic of the "evil handlers", as EdM called them, would not have predicted one person walking out as EdM answered his question.

Still, that was all to come as the event got underway. There had been a lot of buildup to this, the highlight of the Labour party conference. Forget the leader's speech - and let's face it, most of us have. This was the big event. The Q and A! With genuine members of the public!

Initially EdM seemed a bit awkward. He seemed interested only in ensuring that non-party members participated. But few seemed to be genuine ordinary, non-politically-engaged people. They were all lapsed Labour members, or had met EdM before once, or represented some sort of organisation or youth body. "My name's Johannes, I'm not a Labour party member," one of the first questioners announced. "Excellent!" EdM said with relief, before realising this reaction might not go down well with the membership secretary.

It was an event blighted by difficulty. EdM mistook the names of the questioners. He forgot which questions had been asked. He suffered first from "selective amnesia" and then "selective hard-of-hearing". Is this really the person we want with the nuclear codes, you could imagine the 'ordinary people' in the room asking.

One questioner, asking about the war on drugs, suggested the only people who thought it was winnable were the type who wore ties to party conferences. This was awkward, for EdM had chosen to leave his tie on. He became obsessed with this. "I was thinking of taking off my tie," he moaned. "I should have done!" For once, he didn't have an answer. "Any politician, in a tie or not in a tie, who claims to have an answer on this is wrong, basically."

Near the end, a video question was supposed to pop up on the screen. For many, many seconds it failed to do so. Then it started playing, but the questioner was replaced by a shot of EdM looking confused. "It shows it's not choreographed," he said desperately.

Despite the #AskEdM excitement on Twitter, the Labour leader only had time to address a few handpicked questions. It was hard to follow them, for he speed-read the tweets at a supersonic rate. Politics in fast-forward is more efficient, but harder to follow. Presumably this is a habit he developed when a minister, wading through all those red boxes.

The lowest moment of all came when one questioner even walked out. Richard had been riled by EdM hurrying him as he delivered his question, which - like most politicians' questions - more closely resembled a speech. When EdM finally got round to answering him, and explaining how his children couldn't have the same pension arrangements as himself, Richard wasn't having it. He simply reached down to pick up his jacket and strode out, shaking his head. "I'm sorry you don't agree with me," EdM said, a little desperately. Then, when it was clear that Richard would not change his mind, he added, genuinely surprised: "That's the first time that's happened." Presumably he was referring to the walking-out, and not the disagreement.

Predictably, he got a lot better towards the end. He didn't want it to stop. It felt like he could have gone on until midnight and, at one stage, it looked very dangerously like he might.

EdM was euphoric, upbeat, excited. "This has been a fantastic meeting," he said. "We are reinventing politics and this is the way politics should be done. We are definitely going to do more of this."

What would it have taken for him to say anything other than this? Swearing from the outsiders? A stripper invading the stage? The entire audience walking out in disgust?

They'll have to try harder next year. 


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