Before last week’s conference many in the party were agonising over Ed Miliband’s leadership polling. I know I was. No amount of
reassurance/spin from the party could convince me otherwise. Whilst Labour was polling well, Ed was personally polling badly. The Tories were turning their guns on him, now that his place as leader was settled. They had feared targeting him earlier for fear of destabilising him further. Rather a hobbled leader than a fresh, new, dangerous opponent, they thought. Now he was sure, they had no such qualms. Open season on Ed Miliband was about to begin.
But last Tuesday, things changed. Post-speech Miliband wasn’t just clinging on, he was comfortable. He wasn’t just notionally the leader of the party, he was out there at its head, driving the whole movement forward. His tanks were on Cameron’s lawn, reclaiming the centre ground, but without conceding that the centre ground requires the wholesale purchase of Tory ideas on the economy, welfare or the role of the state. It was a speech praised by Len McCluskey and the Daily Mail, Fraser Nelson and Owen Jones. It was the pinnacle of his leadership thus far.
But a game changer? As I’ve said already – we won’t know that for weeks yet. But what the early polls suggest is that it is Miliband,
rather than Labour, who got a poll bump from conference. That’s unsurprising. That was the purpose of conference after all. Labours
polling wasn’t the problem – Miliband’s polling was. Today’s Opinium polling in the Observer suggests some positive improvement for Miliband:
“Ed Miliband enjoyed a personal mini-bounce following his successful speech at Labour conference and his party stretched its lead to 11 points over the Conservatives.
The opposition leader’s approval rating shot from 23% of likely voters before the speech to 28%, according to the latest Observer/Opinium poll.”
All good news, if sustained and built on. But that will only happen if Miliband remains on the front foot and learns from what worked last week. He’s personable, intelligent, thoughtful and not without bravery. He’s not afraid to make tough arguments or fight difficult battles. And sure, he’s Wonky McWonk-Wonk, and he needs to remember to “speak human” (he did on Tuesday, which was part of the success). But people seem to trust him – and that’s political golddust at the moment.
So in the coming weeks Labour needs to keep Ed Miliband in the spotlight. He needs to flesh out what One Nation Labour would look
like in policy terms. It’s clearly based on Blue Labour – a strong set of values but with too much waffle and not enough policy – so he will need to show that deep thinking can provide answers as well as slogans.
But most of all, Ed Miliband can’t be content with not being a drag on Labour’s polling. He has a duty as leader to be an asset. The British people are crying out for someone to stand up for them, and provide some answers as to how we steer the country through tough times. His speech last week suggested he understands that.
I feared that the Ed Mili life story speech would backfire. I thought it lacked narrative and vision. I was wrong. One Nation gave it a
backbone and a cut through that I didn’t see coming. So now, as the Tories play divide and rule in Birmingham – lets double down on being the party of unity and cohesion. And let’s double down on Ed Miliband too. Because now he’s stopped being a liability, he needs to make the next step – and become an asset.*
* – fundraising would be a good place to start – more donations in the next quarter would show that people are enthusiastic about Labour again, and willing to back him…