Every underdog has his day, and it could be May 7  

23rd February, 2015 8:16 am

Judge people by their enemies. Who is most upset at the thought of Ed Miliband becoming prime minister after May 7? A few energy companies, perhaps, not looking forward to having their price structures scrutinised. Train operating companies, recognising that their tax-payer subsidised profit-making may be coming to an end. Some hedge fund bosses, for obvious reasons. A few media barons, ditto. The people who are attacking the Labour leader most aggressively are those who cannot face what a Labour victory would mean: a challenge to some powerful vested interests.

Ed Miliband

Media groups have been attacking each other over the past few days, but their jittery state betrays a deeper unease about their very existence. Not only is their commercial viability in doubt but so too is their continued relevance. What if the press ran a character assassination programme but still couldn’t influence the result of a general election? What would that say about the impact and credibility of certain newspapers?

It never really was true, of course, that the Sun “won it” for the Conservatives in 1992 . But the mythology has endured. The relentlessness of today’s anti Ed coverage, which even Nigel Farage says is unfair, reveals how anxious some are about Labour’s ability to ride out the distorted reporting and still win power. The polls show the two main parties roughly neck and neck. It may be that these numbers represent a core vote on either side that is more or less unbudgeable, up or down.

If that is the case then something quite serious is possibly going on: not so much the first internet election, but the first (to use an internet expression) “meh” election. Why haven’t better GDP and jobs figures boosted Tory levels of support? Meh. Why hasn’t a persuasive argument about a “squeezed middle” and the “cost of living crisis” helped Labour to a substantial lead? Meh. Maybe people just aren’t really listening. The considered response to what sounds to many like blah blah politics is…meh.

Normal people are in any case not paying much attention to political arguments – perhaps for only four minutes a week, according to Jim Messina, the US Democrat turned Tory strategist. There are still two and half months to go to polling day, and only the so-called “short campaign” will get people thinking.

Either of the two main parties could yet discover new arguments or find a new voice with which to win voters round. But in truth it is events beyond the immediate control of politicians that have had the biggest impact in recent weeks: a halving of the oil price, a supermarket price war and now continued scandal at HSBC, threatening to expose a culture of tax avoidance in British financial circles that goes deeper than most realised. The first two of these developments have prevented Labour from building on a slight lead, while the final one threatens to tarnish the Conservatives as being (knowingly or not) complicit in widespread and damaging tax avoidance.

In these circumstances Labour has little to lose by speaking up louder and clearer for the underdogs in society, for those who are losing and are being left behind, for those who do not recognise or experience any economic recovery at all. Job creation has not won the Tories more support because people can see what sort of jobs these are. In truth we have reached the point predicted over 30 years ago by the then chancellor of the exchequer, Nigel Lawson, when he envisaged an economy in which there would be more jobs in labour-intensive service industries that were “not so much low-tech as no-tech”. Neil Kinnock described that vision at the time as a “shoe-shine economy”, and he was not wrong. It is where we are today: low productivity, low pay, with not enough high value-adding jobs being created.

The British love an underdog, it is said, and it was this factor, and not just noisy and hostile press coverage of Labour, that helped John Major to his victory in 1992. Ed Miliband is the underdog in 2015: attacked by some very rich and powerful people who fear the change he might bring about. These are, I think, good enemies to have. On May 7 the people will speak, and they may choose to speak up for the powerless many and not the powerful few.

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  • M2

    Who is most upset at the thought of Ed Miliband becoming prime minister after May 7? How about a middle aged engineer who climbed the career ladder, saved up and bought a modest family home in an area in London that has been gentrified recently? PM EM calls him “The Rich”, slap a 50% tax rate on him and punish him with a Mansion Tax for not living in a council flat

    • Tom Miller

      2 million pounds? And only anything over that?

      Not sure which area of London you live in, but can I bet on Hampstead or Knightsbridge?

      • M2

        Only champagne socialists like the Milibands can afford to live in Hampstead

      • treborc1

        Still far better to sort out the banding.

    • Grytpype

      Never mind. When the Tories are re-elected, from the top of your career ladder, you can laugh at the unemployed, as they grovel in the dirt for the ‘allowance’ they get from their masters. They might slip you a few quid after they’ve sold off the NHS, too.

  • treborc1

    What can one say.

    Labour is the party of people in work, it’s in the name… Progress.

  • Mike B

    Under the Tory/Murdoch/Daily Mail axis certain vested interests have virtually been beyond critical scrutiny since the 1980s. As a party Labour unfortunately participated in this. I now think it has learned from that historical error. This is scaring the hell out of most of the rich and powerful. The best of the powerful will understand that this is hugely damaging to the society that they too wish to live in. How strange that the first comment attacking this article used the example of the mansion tax of all things. Let’s get real here, there are millions in this country who are existing on the edge and for generations they have needed a voice. Perhaps they are now getting one. I can live in hope.

    • treborc1

      Sadly I do not think labour are offering us anything and if the SNP were country wide today we have a new labour movement not this old one.

      The problem is one man does not make a movement and Miliband may well be to the left, the rest of his party are not behind him hence Prescott we are told is coming back to get between Ball’s and Miliband, just before an election.

      • Mike B

        As the article points out the main attacks on Labour and Ed are from the very people who represent rich vested interests and this says a great deal. No one will get all they want from any incoming government. How could they? We don’t all want exactly the same. Labour is the only party that has any chance of delivering some kind of economic and social justice in this country. Ignore that and we ignore reality. Remember all the ‘purists’ before the 2010 general election who called for a Liberal Democratic vote and look what happened. Variations on that theme are now being offered again. The blessed Tariq Ali is voting Green and in 2010 it was Lib Dem. You are bigging up the SNP. It is in effect a way of maintaining a false prospectus and staying ‘unsullied’. The reality is very different. Every party is imperfect. We all know that. Just bear in mind what the alternatives really are. Think of a Britain today if there had never been Labour governments.

  • steven_green

    I’m a member of the Labour Party of 30+ years standing and even I might not vote Labour in May – meh – what’s the point? And (to my shame) I voted for Ed to be leader thinking he would stand for something. He has turned out to be too frit to stand for anything but platitudes. Austerity has failed but Labour still supports it. Labour did not cause the crash but have failed to say so persuasively.

  • Angela Sullivan

    I really hope some genius in the party strategy team does not come up with a soundbite or functional equivalent of a soundbite (pink bus anyone?) aimed at attracting an electorate it imagines is “bored with politics”.
    Nothing was more cringeworthy than tea woman (or whatever she was called) deciding that as she didn’t understand politics she would vote against independence in the Scottish referendum. The assumption that this would appeal to women could only be made by someone who thought that women normally behave like lobotomised sheep. I thought we had lost Scotland at that point, and think it will haunt Labour on May 7th.

    The electorate have sat on their hands not because they are too stupid to understand politics, but because they know when they are being taken for mugs and used by people who feel no obligation to those who put them in power.

    The Labour Party is increasingly ceasing to be a democratic organisation. It not only needs to consult its grass roots. It needs to give them back some of the power which was taken away in the Blair years of “modernisation”. Be clear, if the Labourt party does not stand for ordinary people, it does not and cannot stand for anything.

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