Ed Miliband’s ‘politics of empathy’ means nothing without effective policies

Laudable as it may seem that Ed Miliband is taking empathy lessons from some very learned academics, it’s not guaranteed to make him a better politician – or win him any votes, writes Julian Baggini

Spin doctors are out; bona fide professors are in. Or at least that’s how Ed Miliband’s office has spun his interest in the “politics of empathy”, which has led him to call on the services of one of the world’s leading researchers on autism, Simon Baron-Cohen.

In his book Zero Degrees of Empathy, Baron-Cohen describes empathy as a “universal solvent”, claiming that “any problem immersed in it becomes soluble”, including “political deadlocks”. He is not the only one to advocate the political importance of empathy. The American philosopher Martha C Nussbaum included it in her book Political Emotions, arguing that “the ability to imagine the situation of others, taking the other’s perspective” was required in politics to create “stable structures of concern”

Miliband appears to be less concerned with promoting empathy as showing his own.