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Saturday, October 18, 2014

The dysfunctional Ed Miliband

Today's Times reports that Labour MPs are worried that the dysfunctional nature of their leader's office will leave the party exposed and out for the count at the General Election.

The paper says that unforced errors and an apparent unwillingness to expand and explain Labour’s more controversial plans is angering the rest of the party. The problem is made worse by Ed Miliband's tendency to duck big, often binary decisions even when he has been given plenty of notice:

There is a growing belief that while he can be smart when forced to choose between a right-wing and a left-wing solution — on issues such as bankers, phone-hackers and energy companies — he struggles with other kinds of big decisions. Few thought that “English votes for English laws”, parliamentary recall or Palestinian statehood could have caused such internal strife. In a worrying echo of the past, the whole team is prone to call for more research — behaviour learnt under Gordon Brown.

Could Mr Miliband and his team let the general election next year, still firmly within Labour’s grasp, slip away? After a dismal conference dominated by the leader forgetting to mention the deficit in his speech, as well as disappointing by-election results and the discomfort of the Conservatives briefly pulling ahead in some polls, a spine-stiffening address to MPs on Monday, followed by Mr Miliband’s solid performance at prime minister’s questions two days later, was badly needed.

Whether it steadies the ship remains to be seen. Where there is clear unity across Labour — from MPs to shadow cabinet teams to figures inside the party HQ — is in the chorus of demands for the Miliband operation to improve dramatically. “Collectively it’s an absolute car crash. Reverse. Re-reverse. Then one bit doesn’t know what the other bit of the office has decided. There are so many people,” said one figure who has to deal with them regularly.

“They” are Mr Miliband’s team on the second floor of a parliamentary outbuilding — Norman Shaw North in Westminster. Here decisions stack up, one on top of the next, like a bad morning over Heathrow, and policy proposals — particularly from Jon Cruddas, the leader’s adviser — mature, leak and sour over months.

A senior Labour source is quoted as saying: “It’s not down to one single person. The office has been f***ed from the start and still is. No one has been able to bring any semblance of order. Some of it is the boss . . .

“The chemistry of the people is that there are many people doing strategy and lots of Oxbridge people who are not practical. They are very clever and philosophical but not practical.”

The paper concludes that the impact of Miliband's office disorganisation is twofold. First it means there are moments of apparent paralysis, such as on English votes or Iraq. Second, caution too often wins the day, meaning that bold messages such as the party’s striking plans on migration get presented in a bland, forgettable way.
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