Miliband Mk II

May 13, 2012 3:09 pm

It can’t have been a happy festive and New Year period in the Miliband household. The front page of the Guardian on Boxing Day will have given the prime minister some seasonal cheer, whilst bringing an abrupt halt to the Miliband’s festive merriment. Putting down his Rubik’s cube, Miliband must have pondered how it could be. Why after a year in which a nascent economic recovery had all but died were the Conservatives and David Cameron polling so well? Basking from the grandstanding in Brussels, the ICM poll placed the Conservatives 6% ahead of Labour with the Prime Minister’s personal polling far outstripping that of Miliband. Whilst accepting that Miliband has a uniquely difficult job in politics, it was impossible to look at that poll and conclude he was doing it well enough.

The gloom continued into the New Year. Unless one of Ed Miliband’s New Year’s resolutions was to ignore absolutely everything going on around him, it was difficult to detect just what his and Labour’s strategy was going into 2012. The tidal swell of disgruntlement against Miliband, already high before Christmas, was turning into a flood. Tory ministers confidently went round briefing that “keeping Ed Miliband in his job must be one of our biggest priorities this year” whilst leading Labour commentators openly discussed new leadership.

Fast forward to today. What a difference 5 months has made. This May’s local elections were long held as a pivotal moment for the new Labour leader. Last year the party won 866 seats; it was a disaster. It was the first time since 1979 that a governing party got a higher share of the vote in the first set of local elections than it did in the previous general election. With 37% of the vote, Labour not only polled behind the Conservatives, it got a lower share of the vote in its first electoral test that Michael Foot did in his. When you consider that in 1999, a mere two years after a landslide general election defeat, the Conservatives gain 1,379 councillors – the results are put into context.

This May the party won 854 seats. It was a triumph. The previous May 9,460 seats were up for grabs – compared to just 4,800 two weeks ago. In most of the places that Labour needs to win if it hopes to form a government, Labour progressed. Milton Keynes, Southampton, the Medway towns, Harlow and Thurrock all showed shoots of a Labour recovery. The results shattered the idea that victory is possible without enticing Conservative voters in the south back to Labour.

But it is not just electoral success that has breathed new life into the oft-forlorn Labour leader. A confidence has emerged, an arrogance even, that has not been on display previously. He regularly bests David Cameron over the dispatch box, with the revelations this Friday to the Leveson Inquiry confirming the success of his Murdoch strategy.

For sure, ministerial incompetence has certainly smoothed the process. Up until the Budget the government’s polling and positioning was remarkably robust. Since then it has become a coalition of the damned, stumbling from one disaster to the next seemingly unable to put down anchor on good ship Tory.

Miliband has rarely done as badly as many have suggested, including, indeed, myself, so it would be rash to proclaim this as a new dawn – to borrow a phrase. But after a difficult first 18 months as leader, Miliband has started to convince even his sternest critics that he can outright win the next general election. His assured performance in the Commons during the Queen’s Speech debate last week, surely his best yet, and his bettering of Cameron at PMQs, whilst having little impact beyond SW1, will reassure and inspire the foot soldiers needed to knock the doors come 2015.

No, it is the emergence of a newly confident Ed Miliband that is so refreshing. Cameron has, until very recently, looked every inch the established Conservative Prime Minister. The revolutionary zeal that characterised his first two years was due to give over to ‘quiet competence’. Sadly, for him, both elements of that phrase have been sorely lacking. Cameron’s born to rule demeanour doesn’t mean a right to rule. Miliband has rightly scented blood, and as bad as he was over the festive period; let’s see how good he can get in the months ahead.

  • Redshift

    The 2011 elections were no disaster. I kind of agree with your overall point but this is just stupid and sensationalist. We gained hundreds of seats. 

    • http://twitter.com/_DaveTalbot David Talbot

      Redshift,

      I don’t know if you read this point I made: “The previous May 9,460 seats were up for grabs – compared to just 4,800 two weeks ago”. That’s the context. 

  • Daniel Speight

    At least the Blairites seem to have put away their knives for now, or is it that the poor things are just tired after getting Johnson elected as London Mayor?

    • http://twitter.com/_DaveTalbot David Talbot

      Thanks for not really, as ever, engaging with the point being made Dan. Livingstone proved more than capable all by himself of losing the Mayoral election – that was patently obvious.

      • Daniel Speight

         Dear oh dear David, maybe I should quote what you said in January this year.

        Ed Miliband won the Labour leadership despite the media, and it shows. But they have rightly scented weakness. We in the Labour party have historically not panicked and stuck through with our leaders. But dissent is stirring. As the ever-astute Rob Marchant notes, this criticism is not barbed but unfailingly with the best interests of the party at heart. The danger is that we were too stunned, too intrigued and in the end too kind in Miliband’s first 18 months to truly gauge his credentials.

        I think Ed should watch his back, don’t you?

        That Livingstone was capable of losing the election by himself was probably true, but in the end it was so close that those that attacked him from behind could well have done enough to get Johnson elected. I’m sure they will deny it, but in the end the numbers don’t lie.

    • treborc1

      Or they are sharpening them.

    • http://twitter.com/gonzozzz dave stone

      As Ed’s effectiveness becomes increasingly apparent some Blairites will probably manage to shed their backward-looking political inertia – the scent of a victory in 2015 will see some of them turning somersaults in their scramble for jobs.

      • http://twitter.com/_DaveTalbot David Talbot

        I shouldn’t really have to ask this Dave – but did you *actually* read my article?

        • http://twitter.com/gonzozzz dave stone

          Hi David

          Why shouldn’t you ask that? But anyway, my comment was a response to Daniel’s contribution. And yes, I did actually read your article. Thanks for writing it.

          As I don’t know now you, don’t live near you, don’t share the same associates/friends I find myself unable to comment on the accuracy of your subjective observations. Sure, they’re not identical with mine but that doesn’t mean yours are wrong. E.g: I haven’t noticed the even faintest hint of arrogance in Ed’s growing confidence.

          Nor did I noticed a “tidal swell” of disgruntlement with Ed “turning into a flood” – instead I saw Ed’s early challenge to the orthodoxies neo-liberalism gain purchase as the crisis deepened. The Tories, to a degree, accepted the narrative he established and appropriated some of his rhetoric. The tide always, to me, appeared to be running in Ed’s favour.

          Of course, there are few backwaters resistant to the flow, unwilling to leave the comfort-zone of worn-out familiarity, but that position is now becoming obviously untenable.

          Those are my impressions.

          • Dave Postles

            I’m not a close observer, but I would agree that ‘arrogance’ is not a characteristic of EM nor a desirable quality.  Leave ‘arrogance’ to Cameron, Osborne and co., as also insouciance, which appears to be another ‘quality’ of the Tory front bench.

        • http://twitter.com/gonzozzz dave stone

          Hi David

          Why shouldn’t you ask that? But anyway, my comment was a response to Daniel’s contribution. And yes, I did actually read your article. Thanks for writing it.

          As I don’t know now you, don’t live near you, don’t share the same associates/friends I find myself unable to comment on the accuracy of your subjective observations. Sure, they’re not identical with mine but that doesn’t mean yours are wrong. E.g: I haven’t noticed the even faintest hint of arrogance in Ed’s growing confidence.

          Nor did I noticed a “tidal swell” of disgruntlement with Ed “turning into a flood” – instead I saw Ed’s early challenge to the orthodoxies neo-liberalism gain purchase as the crisis deepened. The Tories, to a degree, accepted the narrative he established and appropriated some of his rhetoric. The tide always, to me, appeared to be running in Ed’s favour.
          Of course, there are few backwaters resistant the flow, unwilling to leave the comfort-zone of worn-out familiarity but that position is now becoming obviously untenable.

          Those are my impressions.

        • http://twitter.com/gonzozzz dave stone

          Hi David

          Why shouldn’t you ask that? But anyway, my comment was a response to Daniel’s contribution. And yes, I did actually read your article. Thanks for writing it.

          As I don’t know now you, don’t live near you, don’t share the same associates/friends I find myself unable to comment on the accuracy of your subjective observations. Sure, they’re not identical with mine but that doesn’t mean yours are wrong. E.g: I haven’t noticed the even faintest hint of arrogance in Ed’s growing confidence.

          Nor did I noticed a “tidal swell” of disgruntlement with Ed “turning into a flood” – instead I saw Ed’s early challenge to the orthodoxies neo-liberalism gain purchase as the crisis deepened. The Tories, to a degree, accepted the narrative he established and appropriated some of his rhetoric. The tide always, to me, appeared to be running in Ed’s favour.

          Of course, there are few backwaters resistant to the flow, unwilling to leave the comfort-zone of worn-out familiarity, but that position is now becoming obviously untenable.

          Those are my impressions.

  • http://www.facebook.com/elliot.bidgood Elliot Bidgood

    Not to rain on the parade, but I still worry, to be honest. As you pointed out, the Tories gained regularly in council elections even at the height of New Labour, starting in 1997, as the voters naturally vote for the party out of power in council elections. It made no difference to their electoral prospects at the general elections. Prior to the 1992 election, Labour generally had decent leads, but we nevertheless lost, in part because of the “threat” of Prime Minister Kinnock led people to retreat to Major. Likewise, after mammoth Conservative leads throughout 2009, Cameron still couldn’t seal the deal in 2010, once the gravity of the possibility of a return to Tory government started weighing on people’s calculations.

    And for sure, Ed’s and the party’s problems haven’t gone away. In a poll a week ago, Ed polled 25% for whether people see him as “Prime Ministerial”, compared to 44% for Cameron- granted, actually being PM gives Cameron a boost, but the fact that Ed’s “PM” rating is 19% lower than Cameron’s and, crucially, 15% lower than Labour’s current VI numbers is a problem. At the end of April, polls showed that although people agreed people should prioritise growth over deficit-reduction 41-31%, people nevertheless trusted Cameron-Osborne 36%-28% over the Eds on economic competence. Even as the government’s competence has ticked down, we generally haven’t seen a corresponding Labour rise. All this considered, despite the current 10-13% Labour leads, I’d still say the next election would render a hung parliament, unless Ed can really prove himself.

    • Brumanuensis

      That’s a fair analysis Eliot, but the danger for the Conservatives is that if they become too reliant on Cameron’s good ratings to offset their bad Party ratings, then any serious decline in Cameron’s approval will knock them much harder. Major, after all, was only in his post for 16 months prior to the 1992 election and could still carry a certain ‘freshness’ into the campaign, whilst Kinnock had been leader for almost nine years and had accumulated more baggage. The Tories also had a much more resillient ‘Party’ identity at that stage, demonstrated by the big bounce after Thatcher’s departure, suggesting that they could rely on people previously reluctant to identify as ‘Conservative’, returning to them once a specific source of discontent was removed. 

      I suspect Ed will need to work on his image, but leaders don’t stay assets for very long. Blair had a shelf-life of about six years and then started to drag on the Party. Brown’s boost lasted all of six months. So building a support base that doesn’t rest on one person, even if compelled by necessity, could be a healthy shift for Labour.

      • http://www.facebook.com/elliot.bidgood Elliot Bidgood

        Perhaps, but the thing is when the leader lags the party, it suggests that the party itself is reasonably strong, with that edge perhaps being undercut by the leader. Leadership matters, especially in general elections. Although on the bright side of that, I just read this on UK Polling Report about YouGov’s poll results today:

        “On the regular leader ratings David Cameron has a net approval rating of minus 29 (up from minus 31 last week), Nick Clegg is on minus 54 (from minus 57 last week). Ed Miliband is on minus 23, this is up from minus 33 last week (conducted mostly before the local election results), suggesting Labour’s gains at the local elections have resulted in a big boost to the proportion of people who think that Miliband is doing a good job. If you leave aside his brief honeymoon period after first being elected Labour leader, this is only the second time that the net proportion of people thinking Ed Miliband is doing well has been higher than David Cameron in YouGov’s weekly ratings (the previous time was after hackgate broke in July 2011).”

        Ed’s ahead of Cameron! I would maintain a caveat about it, because as UKPR point out, it’s probably just a bounce from the local election victories and it could taper off much like the Hackgate bounce did. But if it’s the start of an enduring trend, that is of course great news.

        • AlanGiles

          But of course, the more mistakes Cameron makes, the weaker he will look and the press (and the public to some extent) are bullies and every error will be magnified. Of course, they deserve to be – they show appalling lack of judgement on Cameron’s part in appointing Andy Coulson,  or example, despite strong warnings from members of his own party, not to mention the budget he allowed Osborne to present.  Not having the courage to sack Jeremy Hunt. Numerous examples to choose from

          I suspect Cameron might well end up like John Major – so many attacks from his own side, so many own goals that in the end people feel sorry for him, but conclude at the election that however sorry for him they might be, he cannot be allowed to go on making the country a laughing stock.

          At the time of the February 1974 election, I remember a TV interviewer asking Harold Wilson why people should vote for him, and he answered that he was “the lesser of two evils”. I feel that was far too modest, given the lack of confidence from both public and industry,  but the fact was by that time poor old Ted Heath looked a wreck, and HW gave more of an air of reassurance, of hope.

          In 2015 the way things are going, I think you might find EM is Harold Wilson to David Cameron’s Ted Heath.

          * Kai Winding (1923-1983)

          • http://www.facebook.com/elliot.bidgood Elliot Bidgood

            I don’t disagree, AlanGiles. We’ll have to see whether Ed capitalises on the current opportunity, but so far he has generally failed to lead and excite. The problem for me is although I will settle for a “Wilson”, lesser-of-evils defeat of the Coalition in the short-term, I’d rather the party be able to govern for a long time after that, reverse the damage wrought by the Coalition and implement the changes that need to be made. Brumanuensis pointed out above that “leaders don’t stay assets for very long” and have only a certain “shelf-life”. I agree with that, but I would add that the stronger an asset they were in the first place, the longer their “shelf-life” will be before it runs out. Based on that, I’d hate to speculate as to what Prime Minister Miliband’s shelf-life will be based on many of his ratings! That’s why we need a strong leader, so that he has as much reserve credibility as he can get for when the going gets tough next time when we’re in government.

  • Brumanuensis

    I still don’t understand why 2011 was a disaster, unless you’re talking about media perception.

    Equally, I don’t think Ed has really changed that much in the last six months. His performances in the Commons are the same, it’s just that Cameron’s usual bluster is less convincing than it was previously. Journalists who almost wet themselves with glee over the ‘it’s not like we’re brothers or something’ comment – a pretty disgusting and un-Prime Ministerial remark – have now decided that this no longer makes for good copy and have switched to ‘the Prime Minister is flailing and Ed Miliband is getting much better’. This could all change.

    On the “the results shattered the idea that victory is possible without enticing Conservative voters in the south back to Labour” point, I’d just like to assert that no-one was suggesting that we ignore places like Southampton and Harlow. It was more places like St Albans and Thanet South that were had in mind, in terms of immediate priorities.

  • AlanGiles

    Good evening David. I think the truth is people were unduly harsh on E.M at the turn of the year – including many on LL. Indeed, I remember spending one dismal Friday afternoon in December defending him from all-comers because he had just typed one wrong vowel in a long defunct TV programme (“Blackbusters” instead of “Blockbusters”) – a mistake anyone might make – especially typing on a miniature keyboard – I know from experience!). You would have th0ught it was a heinous crime – indeed it was to some LL posters, on a par with taking the country to war on a false prospectus!.

    That said I am going to keep my own counsel because by this time next week, if the news stories are right, Ed will have carried out his reshuffle, pruning some of the dead wood, and hopefully introducing some new talent. As I said the other day, this may be his one opportunity to stamp his own personality on the party. I sincerely hope for everybody’s sake he takes that opportunity, and we might have a clearer idea of where ED mark 2 is going.

    * J.J. Johnson (1924-2001)

  • Jeremy_Preece

    I have been a very harsh critic of our esteemed leader, and I am afraid to report that I feel no less uneasy than I did at the end of last year.

    David Cameron and his Tory mob have virtually torn themselves apart, and to be honest, in other mid term elections we might have seen Labour 20 points ahead. Registering a complaint about the coalition at the local election is still a million miles away from winning a general election.

    For the record, I was at the polling station for 4 hours as well as writing and distributing election material. I do not live in Greater London and so was not eligable to vote for mayor, had I been then I would of course had voted Ken. The sight of BJ winning at the end of the day was the only sad part of the whole day for me.

    So here we are in recession, in fact a double dip recession. Osborne was warned about the recession by no less than the IMF. He was told that if the UK entered double dip recession then we could loose the UK’s AAA credit rating. Osborne of course took no notice and stuck to his monistrist monologue that if we don’t clear the deficit we would loose our AAA credit rating. So he has been proved specatularly wrong. His argument for this austerity is shot.

    Of course Brown brought us out of recession and unemployment was lower and shinking when this government came to power. Labour has been on and on about not cutting too fast and too quickly, while over the pond the USA has been following the non austerity route. Result is that we go into double-dip and the USa has 2% growth.

    To cap it all Cameron says “there is no choice but austerity in order to fix the broken economy that we took over from Labour”. This is such an outrage. Yet I didn’t hear Labour shouting him down. Instead a section of the voters wil shrug their shoulders and walk away saying “oh yes I forgot it was all Labour’s fault”.

    Finally Cameron says that if we would but listen to him, he will try to protect the UK from all the fallout of the Euro crisis. Nice one Dave. Brown is the PM when the world wide banking crisis hit every country on the planet and no one saw it coming, so therefore the whole world collapse is blamed on Labour. Then the Tories choose an economic policy that throws us into recession, causes suffering and large scale unemployment, and ignores the advice of the IMF and many others – and because he is a Tory (so can’t be blamed) we allow him to say that it is a Europe problem.  It makes you want to yell “one rule for all – you can’t have your cake and eat it, and do so twice.”

    This is where Ed comes over as so weak.

    It is also the case that Ed needs to say what he is about and what sort of policy direction Labour want to go in (even if we can’t have too much detail). I really still feel that there is no milage in just sitting quitely and waiting for the electorate to find out for themselves that they made a mistake in voting Tory. Ed needs to be a lot more proactive than that.

    Just before we move on and pat Ed on the back, we have to remember that in opinion polls he is still about minus 32. That is not the score of someone who is about to become the next prime minister.  

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