A basic marker of adulthood and citizenship is to read a daily newspaper regularly. It is so basic and routine that anyone who doesn’t keep up with news and discussion could rightly be judged as an oaf. For those who enter the realm of political activity, and with it the struggle for power, you might assume that being well-briefed about news, opinions, leader comments and think pieces should come a close second to the need for oxygen.
Well, not if you are Labour Party leader Ed Miliband. In a recent interview, the self-proclaimed intellectual admitted that he doesn’t read a newspaper. ‘I don’t read much British news’, he told Buzzfeed. ‘You get a lot of advice in the newspapers about what you should do. It’s much more important to follow your own path and stick to your own path. I’ve made that a rule in the last three and a half years.’ Instead, his lowly minions keep him informed, as if engaging with politics and ideas were the equivalent of hiring someone to carry luggage to the airport.
Now, I’m not suggesting that we should have automatic reverence for broadsheet newspapers or assume that their reporting or opinions are necessarily good. In fact, it is vital to read newspapers you despise in order to defeat their poisonous ideas and challenge their worldview. After all, why do you think I’m a subscriber to the Guardian? But for Miliband, reading news reports or other people’s opinions would dilute the purity of his political vision and taint the clarity of his party’s next manifesto. Anyone who has watched Miliband flounder on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, or heard him be utterly clueless when interviewed on radio about grassroots Labour Party politics, may draw the conclusion that, rather than being a maverick free thinker, he comes across as arrogantly aloof and disdainful of the society he lives in.
Thus his refusal to read a British newspaper indicates someone who believes they are above the grubby world of politics and contesting ideas. In any other era, it would be an extraordinary admission for the official leader of the opposition to admit he doesn’t read a newspaper. But Miliband’s flippant disregard for news headlines is entirely in keeping with New Labour’s revulsion for political ideology and strong beliefs, its hatred for the old days of fiercely contested ideas and sectional interests. Politics is merely something ‘you do’ after reading PPE at Oxford and hanging around academics in Hampstead. If Ed had been bothered to read the papers, he’d realise Labour’s ‘core constituency’ of working-class voters think he is rubbish at ‘doing’ politics anyway. Or perhaps, in such circumstances, Miliband believes ignorance is bliss.
Neil Davenport is a teacher and writer based in London.