Sunday, 25 August 2013

Time to find an exit strategy for Ed Milliband

You know your fortunes have reached their nadir when notorious mangler of the English language John Prescott criticises your communication skills. Labour leader Ed Milliband reached that point this week and it should give him cause to consider his position.

Writing in the Sunday Mirror a week ago John Prescott accused the Labour Party of ‘massively failing’ to get their message across, then went on to urge not so Red Ed to come over all Fergie and give poorly performing members of his shadow cabinet ‘ the hairdryer treatment and then kick em out.’

In a more, for him anyway, forensic tone he wrote that ‘radical change is now required to shape up the policy of organisation and delivery alongside a clear set of policies and principles so people know what we stand for.’ Just because you are stating the obvious doesn’t mean you aren’t also telling the truth.

The polls haven’t been helpful either, on conducted by ComRes for the Sunday Mirror showed just 22% of the people questioned though Ed Milliband was a good leader of the Labour Party, a fall from 31% in May.

Just to add insult to injury Mr Milliband then got a biffing from Maurice, now Lord, Glasman his former policy guru. Writing in the Mail on Sunday Lord Glasman said that as leader he had ‘not followed his instincts’ and attacked ‘predator capitalists.’ He went on to say that ‘at the very time when Labour should be showing the way ahead, it gives every impression of not knowing which way to turn.’

The only glimmer of light in this tunnel of bad luck was an interview given to the Observer by shadow Energy Secretary Caroline Flint in which she defended her embattled leader saying that ‘individual popularity poll ratings are always given prominence, but the truth is that, when it comes to the election that’s not always a significant factor. Elaborating on this theme she suggested readers ‘think back to Labour leaders in the past who were popular but couldn’t win election. Mrs Thatcher was unpopular but won elections. Sometimes these things are overplayed.’

These are touchingly loyal things to have said, but I would be surprised if politically savvy Caroline Flint actually believed a word of it.

It would be easy to point out that during his long tenure as Deputy Prime Minister to Tony Blair John Prescott brought about neither radical change nor the creation of distinctive policies. You could also comment on the singular ingratitude of Lord Glasman biting the hand that lifted him from academic obscurity and then pushing his plate forward for seconds.

Even Caroline Flint’s demonstration of loyalty could be twisted round to be portrayed as an instance of an ambitious politician pretending that the very last thing she wants is the top job; perish the thought.

Anyway there is little point in criticising Ed Milliband now because Labour isn’t a party that dumps its dud leaders; it lets them trundle over the precipice of disaster under their own steam. If that’s the case then it’s high time they started doing do, because if it is to have any relevance at all the Labour Party is going to have to get tough and quickly too.

Not in the way they have tried to so far by binding themselves to Tory austerity policies, but by being willing to say and stand for things that will make them unpopular in the short term, like challenging the idea that endless growth is either desirable or achievable, but may prove to be right in the longer one. Dumping a dud leader who could never decide whether he was on the left, the right or doing the hokey kokey somewhere in the middle would be a good place to start.

The question isn’t really if the deed should be done; just how and when to do it.

The optimum time would be between the end of the party conference season and Christmas, allowing time for a, mercifully, short leadership race and giving the new incumbent a full year to make an impression.

This would allow Ed Milliband to make a final stirring speech, think Iain Duncan Smith telling the Tories not to underestimate the determination of a quiet man, followed by a quietly dignified resignation early in the new parliamentary session; a tactic that would allow him to exit to a round of applause and leave the door open to a possible ministerial career in a future Labour government.

For all his faults as a party leader Ed Milliband is a highly competent politician; just not leadership material. The common characteristic of people who climb to the top in politics is having a strong sense of who they are and what they stand for, something he has signally failed to project.

When you look at Ed Milliband you get the impression that his life has been just that little bit too comfortable to have forged strong political passions, in their place is a sort of well meaning liberal drone. He has tried his best and been found wanting, there is no shame in that; but the Labour Party and Britain deserve better.

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