When times are tough, people want to see “change”. Often they’re not sure exactly what form that change should take. What they’re really looking for is “hope”. They “hope” that someone can “change” their situation. In some way.
We know that elections can be won and lost on the basis of hope and change. The Obama campaign was built on little else (aside, of course, from a once in a lifetime candidate and stellar organisation). In 2010 Cameron tried the same trick. No hope though (Broken Britain didn’t allow for that), but he adopted Obama’s “change” mantle, despite having backed John “continuity” McCain in 2008.
One of the reasons that Cameron failed to win outright was that he did not successfully change his party. Or at least not enough. It was superficial change, skin deep, and not enough of the public were willing to buy it.
Cameron promised change, but when people look at his party they still see the same out of touch faces making decisions that affect millions without looking like they understand how those same millions live. People were promised change. Some of them voted for it. Few have seen it.
That could be deadly for Cameron in 2015.
Although Labour haven’t caught the imagination of the public yet (a huge understatement), neither have the Tories. They have barely – even during poll surges – reached far beyond their 2010 vote. Labour meanwhile is exceeding the (admittedly disastrous) 2010 vote by 10-12 points on a regular basis. Polling isn’t perfect (see Bradford West), but the consistency of the polling tells you something about perceptions of the Tories at least, if not much about Labour, yet.
Cameron’s failure to achieve genuine lasting change in his party (and therefore in public perception) is clearly something that Ed Miliband is aware of, judging by his speech today. He has said that he is leading “a changed Labour party” and that “Our party is recognising the real changes we need to make. Not hugging a husky then betraying the environment…Real, deep, genuine change, infusing our party, our ideas and our organisation.”
The problem is that whilst this certainly seems to be Ed Miliband’s intention as leader, the party is by no means there yet. He and the party may be “recognising” the changes that need to be made, but the evidence isn’t there yet to argue that such a change has actually taken place.
On party – it’s only 24 hours since we were talking about old fashioned fixes and stitch ups.
On policy – our agenda currently feels like a modified version of the 2010 manifesto, lacking a big, new, attention grabbing idea. And the man leading the complicated, seemingly endless policy review is about the leave the Shadow Cabinet. The trust gap between the two parties is narrowing – but because the Tories are trusted less, not because we are trusted much more.
On organisation – it’s only two weeks since we lost a “safe” seat, activism amongst members is still limited to a hardcore few in most areas, and the party is often limited to counting the dwindling number of potential voters rather than trying to win the support of the millions who have stopped voting.
I’m glad that Ed Miliband appears to understand the scale and scope of what needs to be done. But to argue that Labour is a “changed party” is a significant rhetorical overreach.
There’s still time for those changes to happen – the next election is three years away – but we’re 18 months into Ed’s leadership of the party. And we’ve not changed.
He too promised change. Like Cameron, he is yet to fully deliver. If (unlike Cameron) he wants to win a majority, then deliver he must. If he does it sincerely and relentlessly, he will have my support. But that change needs to be real, not superficial, not rhetorical. And it needs to be happening now – or in 2015 people will still be telling him that “we’re all the same, all as bad as each other, and that they’re not going to vote at all”.