Saturday, 10 August 2013

Blame Not So Red Ed for Labour’s Slump in the Polls.

This could be a nervous summer break for Labour leader Ed Milliband. A poll of polls combining results from ComRes, ICM, Ipsos-Mori and YouGov shows that his party’s lead has slumped from eleven to five points.

An average of the polls puts Labour on 38%, the Tories on 33% and the Lib Dems on 11%. The sharp fall in support for Labour has been attributed to a perceived improvement in the economy and the collapse of support for UKIP; only 13% of disgruntled Tories now say they will vote for Nigel Farage’s band of eccentrics.

This is the closest the two main parties have been since just before the ‘onmishambles’ budget of 2012 when Boy George nearly came a cropper with his hastily scrapped ‘pastie tax.’

Geraint Davies, the latest Labour MP to publicly criticise the party leadership said the poor showing in the polls was linked to Labour’s failure to rebut Tory attempts to lay the blame for the recession at their door. Speaking to he said this made the party ‘look like a shamefaced schoolboy admitting responsibility by omission.’

Ouch! Not quite below the belt, but given his uncanny resemblance to a latter day Jimmy Clithero its close enough to make Red Ed’s eyes water.

Not too long ago Lord Sainsbury, one of New Labour’s paymasters, laid into Ed Milliband for possessing only ‘average’ leadership skills. The fact he had a book to promote at the time and may just feel that he’s still big its politics that has gotten small aside the noble lord might just have had a point.

Particularly when he said that the ‘one nation’ banner Labour was waving at the time was an insufficiently robust platform from which to win an election; then went on to add that ‘you have to be more than a slogan and more than a label to get people to vote for you.’

That a small lift in the economic gloom should coincide with a corresponding dip in the popularity of the opposition is no surprise, in this country we have an almost superstitious attachment to the status quo. It needn’t anyway be a disaster, there is little chance, however dearly they want to, of the government being able to kick start an eighties style consumer boom on the back of a fragile but positive economic performance.

The credit isn’t there these days and new Bank of England boss Mark Carney is too smart and independent minded to play to role of stooge to the Conservative Party. He has already shown his mettle by telling the banks they risk becoming ‘socially useless’ unless they do more to invest in the real economy.

A dip in the polls needn’t be a disaster; but for Labour it is one anyway because it highlights a deeper malaise within the party.

It would be easy at this point to blame the party’s problems on the malign influence of Tony Blair, as easy in fact as someone writing during Labour’s last sojourn in the wilderness blaming all the party’s ills on Mrs Thatcher. There is no doubt that Labour was hollowed out from within during the Blair years, but an overused explanation quickly becomes just an excuse, the fault for the current crop of problems rests squarely with Ed Milliband.

Almost three years into to job of Labour leader and he has yet to stamp an image of himself on either the party membership or the wider public. To date he has presented himself, amongst other things as a trades union man, a Blair style charismatic and a booster for policies such as predistribution that are so convoluted even Gordon Brown would have rejected them during the fingernail gnawing nadir of his premiership.

All these incarnations have proved to be false and in some cases made him look positively ludicrous. On other occasions, such as during the scandal surrounding the alleged fixing of the selection for the Falkirk by-election, Mr Milliband has shown himself to be weak and prone to panic; hardly qualities you look for in a prime minister.

Back in 2010 when the prospective leadership candidates were on their interminable tour of the country I suggested the Labour Party might do better to appoint a safe pair of hands, someone like Alan Johnson or Jack Straw, to lead it through its first term in opposition giving a younger and untainted leader time to emerge. That still seems to me to be a better course of action than promoting, largely because his chief qualification was not being his brother, a man without the aptitude to be a party leader to the post with the certainty he will fail.

The chances of Labour regaining office at the first attempt were always slight and now look non-existent. Their cause would hardly be harmed by changing leader now in favour of someone who could steady the ship and minimise the defeat they suffer in 2015.

Ed Milliband has, I don’t doubt, done his best, but as Lord Sainsbury said you need more than slogans and labels to win an election. Tragically under not so Red Ed the Labour Party has failed to come up with even a workable slogan and the only label sticking to them is the one they are desperate to lose.

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