Monday, 10 November 2014

However they feel about their leader Labour will have to play the ball as it lies.

The leaves have turned; the nights are drawing in, just the time to settle down with a good thriller. Thanks to the machinations within the Labour Party over the weekend we’ve been handed one with a political flavour, although it owes more to Secret Squirrel than Ian Fleming.

On Saturday Ed Milliband wrote an article on Facebook saying that rumours of a challenge to his leadership voiced at a fractious meeting of Labour MPs earlier in the week were ‘nonsense’ and that he and his team would fight the next election ‘street by street, house by house.’ Calm down dears; it’s not Stalingrad.

He added that Labour is in ‘the fight for the future of our country’ and would show at the election they are ‘equal to the challenges of the time in which we live.’ When a politician starts using prose that purple you know he’s got something to be worried about.

Several key party figures were quick to rally to the defence of their beleaguered leader, shadow chancellor Ed Balls said claims that a number of back bench MPs had called for Mr Milliband to resign had been ‘got up’ by malcontents. Election coordinator Andy Burnham, fingered by the rumour mongers as a leader of the plot against Red Ed said that such claims were ‘pure fiction.’

Asked by the BBC whether he thought Ed Milliband could turn things round before the election back bench MP John Mann said that he could, but that he needed to develop a ‘cutting edge’ and to ‘get out and about on the doorstep, listening to people and reflecting on what they say.’

If, as Napoleon put it, a leader is a dealer in hope then Ed Milliband has spent the past four years showing everyone why he’s no Napoleon. Labour should be racing ahead, the economic recovery has yet to be felt by anyone other than Citizen Dave’s hedge fund mates and the Tories are embroiled in another row about Europe and yet they’re on the verge of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

The received wisdom is that Milliband, a classical Hampstead liberal has failed to establish a ‘narrative’ that resonates with either Labour’s core vote or the electorate in general. As is the way with such things there is more than a grain of truth in this, Ed will always be more at home in a book lined study than on the mean streets of a council estate.

Origins needn’t be a handicap for a leader, so long as he or she possesses another very important attribute; courage. Unfortunately for Ed Milliband and the Labour Party this is something he lacks in entirely.

To lead effectively means sooner or later having to adopt positions that may make you an object of ridicule and maybe even hatred and then standing by them come what may because you believe them to be right. Instead Ed Milliband has tried to be everything to everyone, a grinning Blair 2.0 working a tame crowd, the prophet of obscure concepts such as ‘predistribution’ and gurned his way through endless photo-ops involving bacon sarnies and the like designed to make him look more human.

It has all been to no avail; been one big displacement activity that has failed to hide the courage shaped hole at the heart of his leadership. Only on those rare occasions such as when he took on the Daily Mail over the defamation of his late father or pledged to freeze fuel costs did he make anything like a meaningful connection, but he couldn’t maintain the required momentum.

Like many before him who showed themselves to be decent people but poor leaders he made the mistake of thinking that courage is the product of a single event played out in the spotlight. It is nothing of the sort; it is the cumulative result of countless small actions and decisions.

As the old saying goes if you were trying to get a Labour government elected you wouldn’t start from here. The truth is Ed Milliband should never have been elected party leader, a safe pair of hands like Alan Johnson would have been a better choice, if only because the best leaders often tend not to aspire to be leaders at all.

In politics, like golf, you have to play the ball where it lies, and where it lies for Labour is on the wrong side of what should be favourable circumstances with a leader in whom they don’t have confidence. That means they will, in all probability, lose the next election; the best they can do is turn the process of doing so into a learning experience.

As John Mann advises they should spend the time between then and now out on the doorstep listening to their frustrated core voters, particularly when they don’t like what they’ve got to say. What they shouldn’t do is see this as the moment to launch a divisive and pointless leadership contest. That would only further convince working people that the party founded to further their interests has lost touch not just with its core vote; but with reality too.

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