British opposition pitches class at "posh boy" PM

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 01, 2012 9:03 PM
British opposition pitches class at "posh boy" PM

By Guy Faulconbridge

MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) - British opposition leader Ed Miliband will cast himself as a humble man of the people on Tuesday in a bid to underscore Prime Minister David Cameron's image as a privileged 'posh boy' whose government is out of touch with voters.

Miliband, who is betting voters will punish the coalition government for the recession and hand Labour power in the 2015 election, is grappling with polls which show he is less popular than his own party or seen as a worse leader than Cameron.

The polls show Labour about 10 percentage points ahead of Cameron's Conservatives, but a poll on the eve of his speech showed just two out of 10 people believe that Miliband has what it takes to be a good prime minister.

Miliband's advisers hope the 42-year-old Oxford-educated son of socialist intellectuals can silence muttering inside the party about his image as an awkward geek who has failed to connect with voters since winning the party leadership in 2010.

Labour will release a film about Miliband's education at a state school to coincide with a keynote speech at the party's annual conference in the northern English city of Manchester where Miliband will propose reforms to vocational education.

"Every young person should feel they can have a career, a future like I had - you know, it shouldn't be the lucky few," Miliband will say in the film which includes interviews with classmates and former teachers at Haverstock Comprehensive.

In an attempt to dilute Miliband's image as a distant intellectual and to contrast with Cameron's education at Britain's most prestigious fee paying school, Eton, Miliband says his school days taught him "how to look after yourself".

When asked if Miliband was worried by his image, a source close to the Labour leader said: "He is not worried, no. He knows politics is about ideas and he is not worried about being an ideas person."

But in the bars of the party conference, where union leaders rubbed shoulders with lawmakers among stalls selling $1,000 suits and T-shirts featuring socialist icons like Karl Marx, the talk was whether Miliband had the mettle to lead.

CLASS IS BACK

Cameron's coalition government has been haunted by accusations of snobby elitism, a particularly damaging perception for British voters who are struggling with a contracting economy, government spending cuts and tax increases.

Cameron backed a senior minister accused of ranting at policemen in public and calling them "plebs", an old-fashioned insult laden with snobbery, while his government cut the highest rate of income tax, a move Miliband says he will reverse.

In a sign of Miliband's weakness as opposition Labour leader, the most damaging criticism of Cameron has come from within the Conservative party: in April one rebellious lawmaker branded Cameron and finance minister George Osborne "two posh boys who don't know the price of milk".

But Miliband's attempt to play the class card may be hard to pull off: though he is the son of Polish Jewish immigrants, his upbringing in the intellectual circles of north London was a far cry from the lives of most workers in Britain.

The husband of a Cambridge-educated barrister, Miliband - whom the tabloid press has nicknamed "Red Ed" - studied at Oxford and the London School of Economics and has never had a major job outside politics bar a teaching fellowship at Harvard.

A ComRes poll for the Independent newspaper showed 63 percent thought he did not have what it takes to be a good prime minister while 22 percent said he did. For Cameron the figures were 52 percent and 39 percent respectively.

(Editing by Michael Roddy)