The media aspects of the election of Ed Miliband as Leader of the British Labour Party are already depressing. Three quick observations:
First, the way that the broadcast and print media keep focusing on the rivalry between the Miliband brothers, and David’s reported anger and depression, is a dispiriting demonstration of the British media’s obsessive preference for human interest material at the expense of political narrative and explanation. It’s getting to be tedious. And in this regard The Guardian and the BBC are just as bad as any tabloid.
Second, Ed Miliband is, judging by his first set-piece speech to the Party in Manchester, no orator. Despite the inclusion of phrases from the famous Kennedy inaugural speech of 1961, he did not give an overall impression of mature self-confident leadership qualities. It wasn’t heavyweight enough.
The point I am making here, let’s be clear, is not the same as the human interest one above. This is about the historic requirement on a leader: that she or he exhibit a glint of danger, criminality even, in the midst of all the political folderol and managerial cool that leaders help sustain. Think of all the great Western leaders over the past century – Lloyd George, FDR, Churchill,Adenauer, Mitterrand, Thatcher – and they all show this quality of almost criminal but latent threat. Against received opinion, I think President Obama has it to some degree. I’m already convinced that neither David Cameron nor Ed Miliband has it.
The generations come and go
Third, the election of Ed Miliband (born 1969) marks the completion in the Western democracies of the coming to power of Generation X. These are those who were born between the mid-1960s and the late Seventies, and not always happy successors to the baby boomer generation born in the Forties and Fifties. Just as the boomers were the first generation to grow up in front of the TV, so the Generation Xers are the first to have been given PCs for a teenage birthday present. Beneficiaries of expanded higher education, they think of themselves as realists; socially liberal but attentive to the bottom line; critical of their predecessors’ Clinton-like insouciance and hedonism; more focused, more driven.
But their successors are already here at the door. Generation Y (born in the first half of the 1980s and who knew not Thatcher) is now entering its thirties and beginning to appear at board meetings, as heads of service briefings in the public sector, in seats in parliament and on TV screens. In another couple of years we shall start seeing Generation Y ambassadors, bishops, CEOs and cabinet ministers (a beautiful explanation of the X-Y difference is available here).
As that inevitable process unfolds, so the language in which it is expressed will modulate to a new tone of voce we boomers won’t recognise, let alone like. As the first of us start limping into care homes, we shall reflect on the poet’s line “the world that was ours is a world that is ours no more.” And nowhere will that be clearer than on the broadcast media. It will remind us every day.