Politics isn’t exactly my thing so bear with me.
In amongst the cacophony of blame, mud-slinging and hard-hitting analysis of the reasons behind Ed Miliband’s spectacular fall and David Cameron’s surprising success, there just may be a very simple reason for both.
Politics has rarely intrigued me but it is something that I haven’t been able to avoid, not least as a Foreign Correspondent.
As a relatively new immigrant to Britain, my primary concerns were not political intrigues or the nuances between the different parties but ensuring a secure future for my children.
Hailing from a country where one’s taxes rarely translate into any tangible benefits, I am grateful for the little mercies Britain offers – its sense of justice and fairness; the way everyone understands the concept of a queue; the excellent public education for my children and, above all, the superb National Health Service where my children were brought into this world safe and sound.
As such, I was indifferent and not too analytical about who was in power or what those who were in power represented.
The first time I was granted an interview with Prime Minister David Cameron, I had little idea what I should ask him. When my producer kindly provided me with the relevant questions, I completely fluffed my lines on camera.
In fact, it was so bad that Mr Cameron himself had to complete the question for me.
However, following Mr Cameron and Ed Miliband on the campaign trail in the run-up to the election, speaking to candidates of all hues have all made me more acutely aware of Britain’s political intrigues.
Not to mention why Cameron won and Miliband lost.
It is arguable just how much the Ethnic Minority vote – and in particular the British Asian vote – swung things Cameron’s way but I posit that it played a not-insignificant role, in spite of the Cameron government’s crackdown on immigration from outside the European Union.
As Indians – or immigrants in general – a personal connect matters more than any 20 percent pledge. The quite spectacular success enjoyed by Narendra Modi (the so-called “Champion of Big Business”) is testament to that fact.
With Cameron, that personal connect was quite remarkable.
When he spoke about the need to control immigration, it didn’t come across as contrived or even racist. It came across as a moderate man who holds the centre ground in politics talking to me – on a personal level – about the need to do something difficult for the greater good. It really did.
When Miliband – not to mention Labour with that infamous immigration mug – spoke on the same issue, it just didn’t ring true. He always saw the need to add a caveat: “I will control immigration but I won’t denigrate the contribution made by migrants”, he said during the campaign.
As a voter, it sounded like he was trying to pacify me instead of giving it to me straight.
It made Miliband look emotionally, politically, ideologically and even socially detached.
It was remarkable just how much both party leaders went out of their way to reach out to British Asian voters. No temple, Gurdwara, mosque and community centre was immune to hoards of cameramen, journalists and shaven-headed security toughs descending en masse to capture and follow every word and emotion.
I was there at pretty much all of them and the stark difference between the two men – a difference that I believe ultimately returned Cameron to 10 Downing Street and cost Miliband his job – was always very apparent.
The difference in body language was marked.
During the campaign I interviewed Cameron a total of three times and Miliband twice.
Cameron was affable, easy-going and eager to please but was never patronizing. Whenever Miliband tried to please, it felt unnatural and forced.
A classic example was when the two men visited two different Shri Swaminarayan Temples in North London within days of each other. Cameron was always mindful about clasping his hands in prayer or greeting. He had the demeanour of a man who was fascinated and respectful of the traditions and the ceremonies and even the “exoticism” of it all. His garland remained on him throughout his entire visit, even during the media interactions at the end.
Miliband was the complete opposite. His participation in an Arti pooja was painful to watch. While Cameron found the grandeur and rituals fascinating, Miliband appeared to find it all loathsome – probably given his stance on religion in general.
I’m not saying that one must be “religious” but at least appear to be respectful and take interest in the beliefs of those you are trying to woo.
I doubt that his advisors were very good at doing their research. Just deciding to visit a temple is not enough. Advice on how to conduct oneself is vital.
In fact, Miliband’s team as a whole was a disappointment. During one campaign visit to Harrow East, the media and a sizeable crowd had been kept waiting interminably for Miliband’s arrival. As we waited, I tried to approach Justine Thornton for a comment, only to be turned brusquely away by an “advisor”.
Whilst it’s understandable that some politicians (and their spouses) do not do unplanned media interactions but in a campaign as tightly-fought as this, it was important not only to comment about the human interest aspect of the campaign or employ advisors who know how to handle the media – particularly when the journalist represents a community that is integral to the campaign.
The speeches too, reflected the differences between the men. Cameron always endeavored to tailor his speech to the audience – whether it was giving a shout out to Narendra Modi or slipping into a bit of terribly-annunciated Hindi – and never seem to tire.
Miliband’s speeches on the other hand were generic and sounded as tired as the man surely must have been.
As Conservative peer Sayeeda Warsi herself put it, Ed Miliband is a good and principled man. However, he was utterly ineffectual as a leader and a political campaigner. His message consisted of attacking the Tories.
Cameron convinced everyone who voted for him that the greater good, the future of our children, was far more important and merited the sacrifices he wants some of us to make.
Ultimately people related better to Cameron and I truly believe that that was the clincher.