In the New Statesman, Mehdi Hasan asks the Labour leader about his first twelve months in the job:
“What I've learned is that I'm a far more level-headed person than much of the Westminster village." Miliband believes that the weekly joust that is Prime Minister's Questions, in particular, is over-rated. "I always say after PMQs, whether it goes well or badly, that the gap between triumph and disaster is incredibly narrow. Me saying Cameron chucked bread rolls was a great triumph and yet, the week before, [my performance] was supposed to be a great disaster.
Miliband is surely right not to get too worked up about each PMQs. But on reading this, something about his self-congratulation seemed significant to me, and not in a good way. In the Guardian today, Allegra Stratton - very sympathetic to Miliband - helped me work out what it was:
Miliband has two endearing character traits that are sadly not serving him in good stead here: he is a very nice man, and he is really quite self-assured. He thinks his nice man-ness exudes, and it does compel those with whom he has personal contact. But since it is not connecting with the broader public, it ends up being an anti-asset – encouraging complacency. Similarly, the deep well of confidence that comes from the tips of his toes desensitises him to those moments when something really should be done.
Maybe Stratton confuses her own point a little - clearly, his niceness isn't the issue here. Miliband's "anti-asset" is his self-assurance, which is also complacency.
A deep pool of self-confidence is a great and indispensable asset for successful politicians, and Miliband, whatever his other weaknesses, has one. It's what enables him, the week after a disastrous PMQs, to get up and appear confident under Tory fire. It's what makes it possible for him to face the public while hearing, day after day, that they find him 'weird'. When things are going badly for an opposition leader, as they have for most of this year for Miliband, there can be no more punishing job in politics. You could see the confidence drain out of Neil Kinnock or Iain Duncan-Smith. I haven't seen that with Miliband and I don't expect to. He has the blithe self-assurance of an adored younger sibling, endlessly confident of his own place in the world.
But the best politicians combine personal self-confidence with a seething anxiety about their own prospects. Read Alastair Campbell's memoir of the opposition years and you get a picture of Blair that didn't come across so much in public, as a driven, obsessive worrier, calling aides at 4am, rewriting speeches thirty times, convincing himself, even when ahead in the polls, that defeat was imminent. Perhaps this is what Ed is like in private, too. But somehow I doubt it. Ed just seems too at ease with how things are going, even when they are going badly. And make no mistake, they are going badly. That isn't Westminster Village chatter - that's long-term, steady, undeniable fact. He should be more pessimistic then commentators, not less. If Miliband doesn't think things are going appallingly, then it's even less likely he'll be able to turn them around.
If Ed Miliband loses at the election, even he won't be able to convince himself that things are going just fine. He'll be disappointed, and upset on behalf of his colleagues. But then he'll shrug his shoulders and walk away.