There’s a Populus poll in the Times this morning, so lets play “spot the difference” -
Exhibit 1: Labour lead at 15, biggest Lab lead this parliament – Lab 45/Con 30/LD 10
Exhibit 2: 23% of people say they are happy with Cameron and want him to stay, 37% say they are unhappy, but would rather have him than Ed Miliband, 31% say they are unhappy with Cameron and would prefer Miliband. Or put simply – Cameron leads by a huge 60 to 31.
Labour’s leadership will focus on point 1, cross their fingers and hope 2 goes away.
But will it go away? Or is something more troubling going on here? Is Labour now part of the biggest protest vote in modern British history, now that voting for the Lib Dems is a non-starter for many? And if so, can we really expect Ed Miliband to be protest voted into Downing Street?
Or will the British people blink in the ballot box and stick with the devil they know?
Let’s take a look – briefly – at the positive news. Most of the party seems to be focussing on it as if it’s a vindication of everything that has gone before (ignoring the other result). But it does provide Labour with a huge lead, and yes, in theory, people vote for a party and not a PM. Except in practice, voting for a PM is exactly what most people are doing. Miliband deserves credit for taking Labour from 29% up to 45% in the polls. But that credit isn’t being given to him by the wider electorate.
Which leaves us with the “protest vote” thesis.
In short – the voters like Labour more than the Tories. But they are done with the Lib Dems and can’t turn to them. Result? Labour’s big poll lead.
However, the public still like (or don’t yet dislike) the Prime Minister. And they still don’t know what to make of (or outright don’t like) Ed Miliband.
So we have the paradox of the country calling for a Labour government, but preferring Cameron to Miliband. Perhaps most troubling of all is the 37% of voters who think that Cameron has done a bad job but still prefer him to Miliband. How much worse he needs to do for them to transfer their support is unclear…
The fact is, after two years as leader, Ed Miliband has managed to detoxify the Labour brand to some extent, but has failed to either build up or detoxify his own brand. Abstraction tends to rule the roost whilst policy specifics are hidden away. And that could work, were the abstractions not so abstract that we often can’t immediately understand what they are…
At the moment, the country doesn’t want the Tories or the Lib Dems back in power. But they are massively underwhelmed by what Ed Miliband is offering as an alternative. Saying you are voting Labour in an opinion poll therefore looks increasingly like a protest vote, because if you don’t want to vote for Ed Miliband as PM, why would you vote Labour in 2015?
In two weeks Ed Miliband stands up to address the country at Labour’s party conference. This year he needs to leave the abstractions at home and put some policy detail out there that can convince wavering voters that he has an actual plan for Britain.
If we get more waffle, he’ll only be providing Cameron with a roadmap back from the abyss, and the “attack Ed” strategy for 2015 that everyone knows is coming will only be made more effective.
If the election were tomorrow, with Ed polling how he is at present, that onslaught would wipe out Labour’s poll lead in a matter of days, like the tide smashing down a sandcastle.
It’s probably time to start building a castle with policy bricks, rather than sand ideas. But can any castle survive the tide if it’s build on sand?
Are you sand Ed Miliband?
In two weeks, we find out.