Let me begin by stating that Nick Clegg, David Cameron and Nigel Farage all appeared with photos for the Sun's World Cup Special. None of them have apologised. In Clegg's case, local Lib Dems have criticised his posing with the photos. However, they are the government (in the case of the first two) and an unashamed populist in the last case. They are not the the Leader of the Opposition, who has previously made encouraging comments about Leveson yet has now undermined his own position not just on Merseyside, but around the country.
In a world of media spin and angles, the reports are now that Ed Miliband has really come out of this badly. He has posed with the Sun (for a third time) and subsequently been criticised in the Sun after issuing his "apology". I don't think it was an apology. By that, I mean it wasn't a full apology that expressed regret for his actions. Rather, it was a form of words brought together by a media advisor designed to avoid a Sun backlash against Miliband (which it failed to do). So really it was the worst of all outcomes. What is being said about this in the press?
The Guardian reported:
A spokesperson for Miliband said he was "supporting England's bid to win the World Cup" [rather than the paper].
"He totally understands the anger that the people of Merseyside feel towards the Sun over Hillsborough and fully supports the demand for justice for the victims of the Hillsborough tragedy."
But not Ed Miliband himself? The Justice for the 96 Twitter account posted this tweet image:
The Daily Mail (not doing a link) claims he has been humiliated. The Sun lays into him because it says he has apologised. The New Statesman says this about what it calls a half-apology:
"...while this goes further than the initial response, it's still a classic non-apology apology (of the kind that voters loathe): Miliband isn't sorry for the act itself, but sorry if anyone is offended.
The outcome is likely to please almost no one. Those appalled by what one Labour source called "that fucking photo" won't be placated by the non-apology, while those who initially defended Miliband (on the grounds that the leader of the opposition should seek good relations with the country's most-read paper) will now accuse him of lacking the courage of his convictions."
The comments on this Labour List article (which is not directly critical) are telling. The Media Blog also sums it up pretty well.
So here in Liverpool, the Greens, as the new opposition to the administration, have rightly criticised Labour. They are led by Ed Miliband, he is the face of their party, and every bit of campaigning done by Labour MPs, councillors and activists between now and May 2015 will be to put the Leader of the Opposition into 10 Downing Street as Prime Minister. He is the face of Labour nationally. We recognise that local Labour supporters are going to be angry / deeply disappointed with Ed Miliband, but this isn't about media management or misjudgement any more. The local issue now is the half-apology.
He hasn't given Liverpool or Merseyside a genuine apology. He has posed with the Sun three times. This time it hit local and national headlines due to the terrible timing, but he didn't even apologise for that. As the main local opposition party, we have to remain critical of Ed Miliband's failure to apologise, to ensure there is a political price for his actions. You will not find a Green Party leader endorsing the Sun. Far from it. You'll find Natalie Bennett and formerly Caroline Lucas lambasting them for their editorial policy on Page 3, Leveson and other issues.
Locally our response was to criticise Labour, but we need to draw a distinction between the party and the people. Martin Cummins has resigned as a Labour councillor because of it. Peter Mitchell has been directly critical of Miliband and called on him to resign. Today he is meeting Ed Miliband. They both deserve respect for speaking their mind and not being complicit in managing the media issue. Joe Anderson's initial statement was also very forthright but subsequently he has retreated back into what looks like an agreed public line of some criticism, but not too much. John Coyne wrote to all the group leaders looking for a common statement to come from Liverpool City Council to Cameron, Clegg and Miliband. Only Joe Anderson refused.
Local Labour people should be doing everything they can to get Ed Miliband removed from his post and they should be doing it now. At best, he looks like a leader that might be able to gain enough Labour seats so that they are the biggest party after the election but the Tories now look like they will win the most votes according to the bookies. An opposition party 10 months away from the election needs a good healthy lead in the polls and after 4 years of austerity government, Labour should be streets ahead. They are not.
The most talented politician that Labour have on their front bench (regardless of her political position within Labour) is Yvette Cooper. Andy Burnham is a principled and widely respected Labour MP who understands Hillsborough. Labour supporters, councillors and MPs should make a leadership change happen, because otherwise even if they win the next election, they will still be losing in terms of votes and moral authority. They will also have no-one to blame but themselves if they don't act now, and if that campaign is going to start anywhere, it will be in Liverpool. If Peter Mitchell walks out of Westminster and says he can't back Ed Miliband and Joe Anderson were to put his councillor ahead of his leader, then a leadership challenge could happen.
I don't expect to see it. The defences are up and we might instead expect Labour locally to fire every bit of anger and frustration with their own leader at the Green Party instead. I'll say this now. Our criticism now will be for the failure to apologise and Miliband's lack of leadership on the issue. We'll be combining that with his pledge to maintain the austerity budget of the coalition for at least the first year of any Labour government. We'll not let these issues rest because Miliband's Labour Party nationally now looks to voters in Liverpool as little different from the Tory and Lib Dem parties he wants to replace.