Why did Labour members boo and clap when Miliband mentioned Tony Blair?

News last month that a Libyan crowd had been booing on hearing the name 'Gaddafi' prompted me to note that Arabic speakers apparently boo at names too.

Little did I think that we'd soon be hearing some members of a Labour Party conference audience booing while others clapped on hearing the name 'Tony Blair'.

Not content with announcing "I am not Tony Blair", Ed Miliband went on to make another rather obvious point: "I am not Gordon Brown either" (no response).

Then, with what struck me as an air of frustration and perhaps even desperation, he asserted "I am my own man and I'm going to do things in my own way" - 16 seconds of applause (i.e. twice as much as a normal burst).

Who writes stuff like this I do not know. Whether it was Miliband or his speechwriters, one has to ask whether it really didn't occur to any of them that the lines might just possibly (or should that be 'certainly') be singled out and played at the top of BBC Television's Ten o'clock News (as indeed they were) - or that, barely half-hour later, Sadiq Khan, the M.P. who led Ed Miliband's leadership campaign would be reminding us of these very same words (with apparent pride) in an interview with Kirsty Wark on BBC2's Newnight.

What did the booing and clapping mean?
Having watched the above clip quite a few times, I'm still fascinated by the ambiguity of these simultaneously negative and positive audience responses.

Were those who booed indicating that they were sorry to hear that Ed Miliband is not Tony Blair, or that they were pleased to hear him distancing himself from Tony Blair?

Were those who applauded indicating that they were pleased to hear that Miliband is not Blair, or that they were still fans of Blair?

Whatever the answer, an obvious alternative interpretation was to treat it as evidence of division in the party about its past, present and future - which, as a communications strategy, is about as effective as bowling a full toss for the media to hit for six.

Hunt the split
Although British broadcasters may have largely lost interest in showing clips from speeches during news programmes (see the last few posts), they won't miss the possibility of reporting splits in a party if there's so much as a hint of division. That, after all, has been the leitmotif of media coverage of politics for decades.

So what better way to do it than to focus on Mr Miliband's determination to distance himself from his two immediate predecessors, with the added bonus of showing footage of party members booing and applauding the name of the most successful leader they've ever had.

Can Labour afford to back the Ed Milibandwagon?
On asking this question during the Labour leadership campaign last year, I attracted a bit of flak for daring to suggest that Ed Miliband might be too young to remember what had actually happened to his party during its 18 years of decline and recovery between 1979 and 1997 (HERE).

His recurrent rubbishing of New Labour may have helped him to win that particular campaign.

If this speech is anything to go by, he still seems to think there's mileage to be had from continuing to bite the hands that fed him the promotions without which he would never have become a credible leadership candidate in the first place.

But for me, his speech was a reminder of what I'd written about him more than a year ago: maybe he really is too young to know what he's talking about.

If he isn't, I'm left with little or no idea about what he really stands for or what he's trying to tell us about the direction in which he plans to take his party.

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