Stuart McMillan on the state of Ed Miliband’s fledgling leadership

It is an inescapable truism so long as the laws of physics stand: what goes up must come down. So it goes with the capricious business that is democratic politics that whatever party rides high at one point must, inevitably, slide – or occasionally fall – to the bottom.

Can Red Ed bounce back?

The Labour Party is undoubtedly in its worst position since the late-1980s (it is nowhere near the position it was in 1983). Many MPs, not to mention the media and the public, feel that the blame lies with a nice lad called Ed Miliband; currently the embattled leader of the Her Majesty’s Opposition. Many have even started wondering how the alternatives stack up, most notably – and quite without reason – Yvette Cooper, billed by The Spectator as ‘Labour’s Iron Lady’.

Last month the elder statesman of the party Neil Kinnock came out to defend Ed against the ‘cowards’ who have repeatedly tried to stab him in the back.

So what’s the truth behind the spin? Is Ed really quite as bad as people say he is? Are all the cards even on the table yet? What’s more, has a leader in Ed’s position ever managed to come back from his current position to the point of winning an election?

Of those surveyed, 56% said they were dissatisfied with Miliband’s leadership compared to 30% who said they were not; down four points on December. Amongst Labour supporters 46% said they were satisfied whilst 44% said they were dissatisfied, meaning that a slim majority of the party is still in favour of Ed leading the party.

Meanwhile, neither the front bench nor the backbenches are in the same level of disarray that was experienced during Gordon Brown’s last years – no walkouts, no open war, and no strife wracking the party. On the contrary, in the eighteen months after the Blair-Brown era, a period that could have crippled the party and caused it to fracture into several harmful splinters, Ed has managed to be the mixture of socialism and capitalism that has kept the party together. His handling of the Unions has suggested neither the overt support of his predecessors such as Michael Foot and Kinnock nor the blunt dismissal of Tony Blair.

He has a strong Chancellor in Ed Balls, but an acceptance of the public sector wage freeze has moved the Labour Party perilously to close to the-nicer-version-of-the-Tories party. This is where Ed Miliband will continue to lose momentum; regardless of how far away the next election is he needs to demarcate his policies from those of Cameron’s, why he hasn’t is probably partly the reason why the Prime Minister’s personal approval ratings are their highest yet – the field is free of challengers.

Lord Glasman’s statement that the party under Ed’s leadership has ‘no strategy, no narrative and little energy’ was one of the few stabs in the front that he actually received, but he shouldn’t let this get to him. Glasman’s anti-statist Blue Labour did not connect with the voters and his speed in turning should leave Ed with a painful but useful lesson in politics. But what’s more, he should have taken the opportunity to attack him back – it is a truth universally acknowledged that Ed Miliband is just a bit too nice.

Comparisons with Iain Duncan Smith and, more obviously, Michael Foot, are expected but unfair. Iain Duncan Smith’s leadership rating was actually lower than Ed’s is and the latter is in no position like the beleaguered Smith was. New Labour was riding high and with an incredibly large mandate whilst the Conservative party was still hacking through the wilderness with a blunt machete when Smith was leader. This time round Ed is fighting a Coalition Government where the main party does not actually have a majority and with policies that are neither insanely popular nor difficult to criticise.

Labour’s rating in a latest MORI polls puts them neck-and-neck with the Conservatives on 38%, whilst YouGov has them on 38%, two points behind the Tories. 1983 it ain’t. Here is where a strong, focused, and fundamentally Labour manifesto comes in. To hit the right marks that convince the public that Labour is on the side of low- and middle-income families whilst still not alienating the businesses and the banks, something which it is difficult not to do given their current standing with the country, will put Labour back on top. ‘The longest suicide note in history’ is not an option, but it is unlikely such a thing will happen; Ed is nothing if not a pragmatist, no doubt having been taught too much by his predecessors.

Ed needs to be his own person, not a Brownite, or a Blairite, or even something different or in between. To connect with the public, he needs to appear human, something which David Cameron is much better at doing.

Kinnock can defend him, Glasman can attack him, his entire front bench could try to walk out and his party could attempt to overthrow him, but as any party leader knows, the difference between success and failure is slim. Ed Miliband faces the greatest challenge of his political life. Thankfully, unlike many of his predecessors, he finds himself part of events that mean the hurdle is nothing if not insurmountable.

 

Stuart McMillan

Image Credit- Christian Guthier