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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Labour in trouble

As delegates start to gather for the Labour Conference in Liverpool the Independent tells us that two leading figures in the party have published a pamphlet that claims that Labour has gone backwards in Mr Miliband's first year as leader and "lacks credibility on the economy":

It says: "Voters have even less idea about what Labour stands for now than a year ago, despite the election of a new leader. There is a general sense that New Labour had been abandoned, but very little idea of what this means in practice."

While Mr Miliband is seen as decent and not extreme or out of touch, he is not regarded as a potential Prime Minister.

The pamphlet, Southern Discomfort One Year On, is written by Patrick Diamond, a former aide to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown who wrote last year's election manifesto with Mr Miliband, and Lord Radice, a former Labour MP who first diagnosed Labour's "southern problem" in the 1990s.

Their research in the South and the Midlands concludes that Labour's position is "weak", particularly among the skilled and white collar workers of "Middle Britain" who helped both Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair win three elections.

Labour holds only 49 of the 302 parliamentary seats in the South (excluding London) and Midlands, which includes many key marginals. "The party cannot win without doing much better in the South and Midlands, nor can it rely on David Cameron's failure to make further inroads in the North and Scotland," says the pamphlet published by the Policy Network think-tank.

It warns that the Conservatives could win the next general election by default even if George Osborne's strategy fails because Labour has lost voters' trust on the economy. "While voters still see Labour as caring and fair, they no longer believe the party is capable of running the economy," it says. "Even more importantly, they do not consider that Labour understands, respects or rewards those who want to get on. Far from encouraging and rewarding talent and opportunity, Labour is still seen as a party likely to 'clobber' those who want to make the most of new opportunities."

The authors suggest Labour has not been able to capitalise on the feelings of anxiety and insecurity among wavering Labour voters which have replaced "aspiration" as their main concern. These people still want politicians to recognise the importance of enabling people to get on in life and do well for themselves and their families.

Mr Diamond and Lord Radice warn: "The heightened mood of pessimism and anxiety may encourage voters to take refuge in what they know, namely the apparent certainties of the Conservative approach based on sound money, smaller government, hostility to Europe and a punitive approach on immigration and crime which may have added resonance among some voters given the prevailing sentiment of insecurity."

The research found that immigration is a serious weakness for Labour, but that the Tories are seen as "more interested in looking after the rich than the British people as a whole". David Cameron is "not loved but he is respected as a capable leader".

Voters remain open-minded about the Government, not least because Labour is not offering an alternative.

These are quite serious conclusions for the Labour Party and underlines Mr. Miliband's problems with the polls. In the latest ICM for the Guardian Nick Clegg enjoys a substantial improvement in his position, a net 13% up on last July and, on every figure, is now doing better than Ed Miliband.

The Liberal Democrat Leader has higher positives and smaller negatives than Ed Miliband. As Political Betting points out only 28% of those sampled thought that he had the right qualities to become PM. Amongst Labour’s own supporters only 51% agreed. To another question on whether Miliband was the right leader for the Labour party just 30% agreed. Amongst Labour voters the proportion was only 49%.

Still it is not all bad for the Labour leader. He is after all doing better than shadow chancellor Ed Balls.
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