Its all gone pear shaped for troubled Labour leader Ed Milliband; again. The party has dropped two percentage points to lie neck and neck with the Tories at 37% according to a ComRes poll published this week.
By contrast the Liberal Democrat dead cat has bounced up to 12% thanks to a minor boost provided by leader Nick Clegg’s timid objections over NHS reforms. Smaller parties including the Greens, UKIP and the SNP have also seen their approval ratings rise recently.
This should be a time when Labour is making hay whilst the political sun shines, leading economists are queuing up to criticise the coalition for cutting the deficit too quickly, savage spending cuts are about to hit the Tories core vote in middle England and David Cameron’s plans for a ‘big society’ are still utterly incomprehensible; yet the official opposition has missed a string of open goals. As a result Ed Milliband is under fire for failing to convince party activists he has the ability to win a general election; worse still he sent them out on the campaign trail for the recent local elections without a slate of coherent alternative policies to sell to the voting public.
What he has done though is saddle the party with twenty five different policy reviews with titles ranging from ‘Family life. What helps?’ to the utterly baffling ‘X Factor for the many, not the few.’ What does Red Ed want, free entry for all to television talent contests? Your guess is as good as mine mate.
What is crystal clear though is that however many policy reviews he has launched Ed Milliband is still no clearer to defining what Labour stands for than he was when he stood on the platform at last year’s party conference prattling brightly about a ‘new generation’ taking the reins. People were inclined to cut him a little slack then because he was new to the job, they won’t do so now.
This week the Daily Mail reported with barely restrained glee the opinion of an, unnamed, member of the shadow cabinet that by launching endless policy reviews Ed Milliband had ‘created a monster’ and proved himself to be a ‘disaster’ as party leader. To be fair the Mail, like much of the media and what passes for ‘informed opinion’ has had it in for Red Ed from day one and not without good reason.
He has proved himself to be an intelligent, if a little too earnest policy wonk promoted beyond his abilities with no ability to connect with the grassroots membership. Worse yet his atrocious performances at Prime Minister’s Questions have too often given a boost to the government by letting David Cameron appear to be cleverer and wittier than he really is by bashing him out of the park every Wednesday afternoon.
The truth though is that in the disaster movie into which the end of the New Labour project is rapidly turning Ed Milliband isn’t so much the iceberg as the poor sap who has been made captain just in time to go down with the ship. The real ‘disaster’ for the Labour Party happened when Tony Blair became party leader and got worse when Gordon Brown took over in 2007.
Between then those two men destroyed the Labour Party as a distinctive voice in British politics. One did it by turning the party into a tool of his vaunting ambition; the other by using it to act out his ever multiplying neuroses; both Blair and Brown colluded in the creation of a party structure that removed policy making from the membership and put it in the hands of a cosy cabal. For all his talk about making the party more open to new ideas Ed Milliband has done nothing to change that.
The received wisdom is that all Labour has to do is move back onto the centre ground, appoint a suitably slick son or daughter of Blair as leader and all will be well again; it won’t be. Back in 1997 people wanted to vote for a party that had a conservative approach to economics but phrased it in a ‘nicer’ way, hence the success to New Labour, times have changed though, Citizen Dave has detoxified the Tory brand whilst George Osborne has smuggled all the things even Margaret Thatcher recoiled from doing into his budget under the guise off cutting the deficit. Why then would anyone who wanted a Tory government not vote Tory then?
What Labour needs to do to survive, never mind about winning elections for the moment, is to go back to being a real Labour Party again. Back to speaking up for the poor and the many people who fear they soon will be poor if our country continues to be at the mercy of the markets and the sort of people who when shown a rainbow can’t help thinking how it would be so much more cost effective if it used fewer colours.
They need to talk in simple, but never simplistic or patronising, language about the possibility of creating a different sort of society. One that may be a little harsher for the very rich; but that will be so much fairer for everyone else.
Ed Milliband has proved that he isn’t the man for that job, if it can’t find a man or woman who is than a financially and ideologically bankrupt Labour Party will have come to the end of its natural life. It will be time for those people, and I count myself amongst their number, who think there is still a role for the sort of party Labour used to be before the advent of Tony Blair will have to set about building a new one from the wreckage of the old.