U.K. Labour Leader Miliband Takes Message Discipline To New Heights Of Absurdity

07/05/2011 01:06 pm ET | Updated Sep 04, 2011

More than 750,000 public employees went on strike in the U.K. last week over proposed austerity measures that would affect their pension system. What does Labour Party leader Ed Miliband think about this? Well, he thinks that these strikes are wrong while negotiations are ongoing, but he also thinks the government has acted in a reckless and provocative manner. In short, he thinks it's time for both sides to put aside the rhetoric, get around the negotiating table, and ensure that these sorts of strikes never happen again.

I am one-thousand percent certain he feels this way, because he made this statement -- or some slight variation on it -- five different times in two-and-a-half minutes.

These two-plus minutes of near Ionescan absurdity are the product of what was supposed to be a pooled interview between ITV reporter Damon Green and Miliband. As with pool reports here in the United States, the goal is to obtain material to be shared by all the major news organizations. As Green himself relates in a response to this bizarre interview: "There is an etiquette involved in pooling, which everyone understands. Ask the obvious question, and get the obvious answer. Don’t try to be too clever or esoteric, either with your questioning or your camerawork. Make sure the material is usable by everyone (reporters: stay out of shot) and relay it as soon as the interview is done."

Green got an inkling that he was headed into undiscovered territory when he was met at Millband's office by a team of handlers, who fretted over the questions he was set to ask and the composition of the camera shot. But the suggestion of forthcoming complexity ended up devolving into Miliband's robotic repetition of talking points. "I was getting twinges of what I can only describe as existential doubt," writes Green, who went on to bottom line the experience thusly:

If news reporters and cameras are only there to be used by politicians as recording devices for their scripted soundbites, at best that is a professional discourtesy. At worst, if we are not allowed to explore and examine a politician’s views, then politicians cease to be accountable in the most obvious way. So the fact that the unedited interview has found its way onto YouTube in all its absurdity, to be laughed at along with all the clips of cats falling off sofas, is perfectly proper.

Afterwards, I was overcome with a feeling of shame. I couldn’t look him in the eye.

But before I dried up completely, and had to be led out of Westminster with my mouth opening and shutting, I had an opportunity to ask one last question. I had an urge to say something so stupid, so flippant that he would either have to answer it, or get up and leave. `What is the world’s fastest fish?’ `Can your dog do tricks?’ `Which is your favourite dinosaur?’ But, of course, this was a pool interview, and I had no wish to feed out the end of my television career to Sky and the BBC.

I realise now, of course, the perfect question to ask, to embarrass him and to keep my job. I should have asked was whether the strikes were wrong, whether the rhetoric had got out of hand, and whether it was time for both sides to get round the negotiating table before it happened again.

Because that was the only answer I ever got.

Ed Miliband TV interviewer reveals shame over 'absurd' soundbites [Guardian]
"To a TV reporter, political PRs can seem incredibly fussy..." [Damon Green @ Twitlonger]
It Is Time for Both Sides to Set Aside the Rhetoric [David Weigel @ Slate]