Ed Miliband insisted that principles and ideas are more important than photo-opportunities as he accused David Cameron of pursuing an image-driven approach to politics.
The Labour leader, who has been ridiculed for a series of unfortunate newspaper pictures and his “geeky” appearance, sought to take on his critics, saying Mr Cameron puts style ahead of substance.
In a speech in London to launch Labour’s summer campaigning, he warned that the focus on image was fuelling public cynicism with politicians.
“I am not from central casting. You can find people who are more square-jawed, more chiselled, look less like (animation character) Wallace,” he said.
“You could probably even find people who look better eating a bacon sandwich. If you want the politician from central casting, it’s just not me, it’s the other guy.
“And if you want a politician who thinks that a good photo is the most important thing, then don’t vote for me. Because I don’t.
“But here’s the thing: I believe that people would quite like somebody to stand up and say there is more to politics than the photo-op. And that culture diminishes our politics.”
While he described Mr Cameron is “a very sophisticated and successful exponent of a politics driven by image”, he said the reality of what the Prime Minister did was often at odds with the appearance.
Mr Miliband said a culture where “politics is played out as showbiz” denied people a debate about issues that really mattered and did “deep harm to our country”.
“This is not new but it has got worse. Politicians have fuelled it. The media feed it. At Prime Minister’s Questions, we keep score,” he said.
“When Tory women get appointed to the Cabinet, they are said to be ‘walking down the Downing Street catwalk’ and things are judged far more on style than substance.”
The Labour leader acknowledged that he did sometimes “get it wrong”.
“I know, especially for people on Merseyside, me holding up a copy of the Sun was one of those days,” he said.
He nevertheless insisted that he was committed to sticking by his principles.
“My true test of leadership is not just whether you look the part but whether you can retain your soul,” he said.