05 January 2012

Ed Miliband: skating away on the thin ice of the new year?

(with apologies to Jethro Tull)...

news is rather thin this new year, so it must be time to put the boot into Ed Miliband. The usual suspects have been at it of course: for example the celebrated 'false flag' blogger Dan Hodges is barely able to write about anything else (although he did produce an excellent blog on the Lawrence killer sentences this week).But the new specialists in anti-Ed propaganda is the Guardian, which has been orchestrating a series of attacks on Ed that are as blatant as they are clumsy in their distortion of what political commentators are saying about the poor guy. Two obvious examples of this tendency, just so you don't think I'm making it up:

  1. a Policy Network report by centre-left academic Ben Jackson and Labour pensions spokeman Gregg McClymont which presented the evidence from previous Labour election defeats in the 1930s, 1950s and 1970s as a cautionary tale for Labour today was spun by the Guardian as an attack on Ed's leadership.
  2. an article yesterday in the New Statesman by Labour peer and Ed 'guru' Maurice Glasman which, if anything, was criticising Ed Balls rather than Miliband, and not very coherently at that, was, similarly, spun by the Guardian as an attack on Ed (Miliband)'s leadership.
Crappy journalism like this lowers the Guardian to the 'broadsheet gutter' zone of journalism occupied by the Times, and maybe below that, to the mid-range gutter of the Mail and Express. I was naive enough to believe that the departure of arch-Tory Julian Glover from the Guardian to Cameron's speech-writing team earlier this year would mean a significant reduction in the amount of pro-ConDem, anti-Ed bias in the paper's editorial line, but sadly the opposite seems to have been the case.

Although well known ConDem sympathiser Martin Kettle may have some role in this, I think the main instigators of the Guardian's anti-Ed vendetta are Chief Political Editor Nicholas Watt and Political Editor Patrick Wintour. This "dynamic duo" have recently embarked on a mission to oust Ed Miliband at any cost. It may be that they have been against Ed from the beginning; they may be on the payroll of the very well-funded LINO pressure group Progress; or David Miliband may have promised them advisory jobs in his private office after he replaces Ed (in his dreams!) Their precise motivations are (for the moment) a mystery, although I am working with contacts at the paper to find out what I can.

So is Ed Miliband on thin ice? I honestly don't think so. Labour's poll ratings have been improving (albeit slowly) over the last month as the Cameron "veto bounce" fades. I can't remember a single instance of a leader getting the boot if their party was in front in the polls. Certainly when IDS was forced out in the autumn of 2003, the Tories were miles behind Labour. The normal rule of thumb is that, to be replaced mid-term as an opposition leader before even getting the chance to fight an election, you've got to be doing really badly. And Ed is doing just... so-so. In fact, on some measures he's actually doing rather well; Labour is currently running at about 12 percentage points above its share of the vote at the previous election. 18 months into a parliament, I can't remember a Labour opposition leader ever doing as well as that; not Foot in 1980, nor Kinnock in 1984, nor John Smith in 1993.

What's more, the "critiques" of Ed are either not really critiques at all (e.g. the McClymont/Jackson Policy Network report, which is actually quite supportive of what Ed is doing), or they're critiques of Ed Balls rather than Miliband (to the extent that I can make coherent sense of it, the Glasman article falls into this camp), or they're right-wing LINO or ConDem hackery with no real traction in the Labour Party (Hodges, Rentoul, Kettle). There has not been any mainstream Labour voice saying Ed is crap. As Eoin Clarke of the excellent Green Benches website points out, Ed has probably lost some grassroots support by not delivering on to the (slightly) radical stance of his leadership election campaign. And my belief is that if he were more radical he would do himself a big favour. But none of that has any bearing on whether he survives in the job or not.

For better or worse (I think overall for the better), Ed Miliband is safe in the job. Ignore any hack who tries to tell you otherwise.


Van Patten said...

It's rare that a Leader who is seen by the Public (rather than his own supporters) as a laughing stock is able to transcend this. Toynbee actually had a good article comparing Miliband's initial period with Margaret Thatcher as Tory Leader in the mid 70s, and whatever you might say, as a politician three election victories is not to be sniffed at.

I would agree with the central thrust in that I think Labour would be fools to get rid of him, however underperforming he might have been - the central question - who would replace him? Is not even considered by Hodges and suchlike, except perhaps for a pining for his brother which with all the will in the world isn't going to happen. Some Right wing bloggers and fellow Haard rightists on Twitter have talked of Yvette Cooper or Chuka Umanna making a challenge - any traction in these rumours?

Hal Berstram said...

Cheers mate. In terms of most likely alternative leader (in the event that Ed were to do an IDS and Labour fell catastrophically behind the Tories), Yvette might make a challenge as an electable alternative to Ed Balls - certainly I wouldn't expect Balls to stand again after what happened last time although given the size of the guy's ego, nothing can be ruled out.

I don't think there's any way Chuka would challenge Ed (a) because Ed's one of his key backers and (b) because he's only been in parliament 18 months. It's just too soon. If Ed loses the election then Chuka could be in with a shot, certainly, although there are several other MPs from the 2010 intake also in with a shot. Rachel Reeves, for instance.

In terms of other right-wing challengers, discounting David Miliband as damaged goods, the only two serious contenders in my book are Jim Murphy and Liam Byrne. It is possible to interpret recent high-profile briefings by both of them as laying down leadership credentials. I think both of them would be completely crap, but if I were a conspiracy theorist looking for a new right-wing challenger, it'd be one of them as the "heir to Blair", with Cooper as an alternative on a "party unity" ticket - essentially trying to tread a path between the neo-Blairites on the right and the Ed Miliband faction on the soft left. But like I say, all academic as in my view, a leadership challenge is vanishingly unlikely. But nevertheless, as you know, I'll talk these scenarios all day long!

Hal Berstram said...

Thinking about it some more, it's amazing how quickly MPs can rise to become party leader nowadays in either Labour or the Tories. Ed Miliband: first elected 2005, party leader 2001. David Cameron: first elected 2001, party leader 2005. Now compare the main party leaders in the 1980s: Margaret Thatcher, first elected 1959, leader 1975. Neil Kinnock, first elected 1970, leader 1983.

So we've gone from a situation in which MPs spent at least a decade in parliament before having a shot at the leadership to a situation in which people are almost walking into the job straight from their Commons induction speech. Is it just me who thinks there's something rather strange about that?

Hal Berstram said...

That Ed Miliband entry should of course read "elected 2005, party leader 2010"... sorry.