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Thursday, August 01, 2013

More trouble for Ed Miliband

Yesterday's Telegraph has a fascinating article on the problems besetting Ed Miliband. However, it is not from one of the usual suspects but written by the consummate Labour insider, Dan Hodges.

Drawing comparisons with Three Days of the Condor, Mr. Hodges says that in contrast to the Robert Redford character, Ed Miliband has few friends within the Parliamentary Party. Indeed he cannot think of a leader who has seemed so politically isolated at this stage of the electoral cycle:

 A popular refrain among Labour commentators is “Ed doesn’t have outriders”. But in truth, Labour’s leader doesn’t even have anyone prepared to shoe his horse, or sell him a saddle. Peter Hain and John Denham, two of his key lieutenants, have left the shadow cabinet. A third, Sadiq Khan, is eyeing the London mayoralty. Chuka Umunna, a founding member of Team Ed, is subtly developing an independent profile of his own.

"Ed doesn’t have allies”, one shadow cabinet member told me, “he has courtiers. Staffers jockeying for position, all telling each other, 'you’ve got to tell him x or y’. But none of them has the guts to actually go and tell him x or y themselves”.

This failure to build a base within his shadow cabinet, or the wider PLP, means Miliband has had to look further afield for his support. He has courted Labour’s activist base, paid his respects to the trade union general secretaries and built good links with the Labour blogosphere. But in doing so he has gravitated inexorably Leftwards, engaging with his movement, rather than the wider electorate.

Over time this process morphed, more by accident than design, into the “35 per cent strategy”. Essentially, it involved using Left-of-centre messaging to build a coalition of core Labour voters, ex-Lib Dems and first-time voters. This in turn would provide an electoral floor of 35 per cent of the national vote, enough to guarantee Miliband and Labour became the largest party at the next general election.

And yet even this strategy is starting to come apart at the seams. Dan Hidges says that Labour’s disastrous positioning on three key issues ,welfare, Europe and the econom, has given David Cameron and his campaign guru Lynton Crosby the opening they’ve been waiting for:

Since the turn of the year, Labour has been successfully defined as the party that wants to grab the nation’s credit card and hand it to the nearest benefits scrounger. Simultaneously, Miliband’s inexplicable paralysis over an EU referendum has provided the Prime Minister with sufficient breathing space to placate his own rebels.

The result of all this is that winning 35 per cent of the vote in two years’ time now looks to be at the top end of Labour expectations. The double-digit poll leads have shrunk to an average of 6 per cent, compared with 15 points for Tony Blair and David Cameron as they prepared for the transition from opposition to government. Amazing as it may seem, given the omni-shambles embracing his administration 12 months ago, the next election is becoming Mr Cameron’s to lose.

He says that Ed Miliband’s problem is that he is now in danger of becoming a bigger embarrassment to the Left of his party than to the Right. The Labour leader has been pushing the agenda the Left wanted him to push, opposing cuts to welfare and proposing additional spending as an alternative to austerity. But it is that agenda that is slowly but surely being rejected by the British people.

Mr. Hodges says that the Left is being confronted with a choice. Blame the product or blame the salesman. In his view it will inevitably opt for the latter.
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