Sunday, 22 April 2012

Ed's Doing Just Fine

There’s nothing the media crave more than a fall guy. Someone to sink their teeth into, ripping reputations to shreds. Character assassination is more the tabloid style.

A lot of snide and derogatory comments have come the way of Ed Miliband, many since the very day he became Labour leader.

And yet, slowly but surely, he’s started to grow in stature. He’s begun to find his voice and his line of attack.

Bradford-West by-election aside, it’s been a good few months for Ed.

It takes some courage standing up to the Murdoch empire, something previous leaders avoided like the plague.

Leading the charge against its concentration of power in the UK has won Ed plaudits across the political divide. You can imagine the pundits remarking: “I never thought he had it in him.”

His calls for a more ‘responsible capitalism’, as opposed to our ‘predatory’ one, struck a chord, and tapped into the “we’re definitely not all in this together” mood.
He has become a more than able performer at Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) – not that the public notice or care for PMQs: a spectacle savoured only by political anoraks and Westminster hacks.

Last month’s budget was a gift to the opposition. The budget that keeps on giving:

“...probably the most bungled in history, fiscally neutral yet politically incendiary,” as Polly Toynbee put it.
The government has been on the defensive ever since.

Alongside Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, the cutting the deficit ‘too far, too fast’ mantra is being vindicated by our low growth, jobless recovery.

An often cited criticism of Ed Miliband is that he comes across as socially awkward, and a bit weird.
But, it’s in hustings, one to ones with the public, that he seems to shine.

At a recent Labour party event he was praised for the way he engaged with his audience, both ‘emotionally and intellectually’, addressing those who asked questions by their first name. In contrast to David Cameron’s ‘polished’ but ‘slightly distant,’ act:
“[He] gave [party members] a reminder of why he made such an impression in the 2010 leadership...Miliband would never have won in 2010 without his strong performance at Labour party hustings across the country.”

Labour’s slogan for May’s local elections, “with you in tough times,” is a simple yet effective way of drawing voters’ attention to a party which is caring and in touch with their concerns, rather than the false compassion offered up by the Conservatives.
It’s worth noting that Ed Miliband inherited a battered and bruised party, but not a broken one.

2010’s general election gave Labour its second worst showing at the polls since 1918. Its share of the vote down 6.2% to 29%; a loss of 94 seats, leaving it with 258 MPs.
Yet, this was only 49 seats behind the Tories. A crushing defeat, but one would have expected far worse for a party led by such a deeply unpopular Prime Minister.

In short, Ed has had something to work with.
A lot of new and fresh faces have joined the party; some have already found their way onto the shadow cabinet benches.

If we look at the electoral arithmetic things look fairly bright.
According to analysis carried out by Lord Ashcroft, the former Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party, the Tories require more than 40% of the the vote just to win an outright majority at the next general election.

They also need to secure a lead of around 7.5% over Labour.
“...while the Conservatives struggle to piece together two fifths of the electorate, Labour’s core support plus left-leaning former Lib Dems could theoretically give Ed Miliband close to 40 per cent of the vote without needing to get out of bed.”

More heartening for the Labour leader is that despite the PM’s best efforts, the Tory brand remains as toxic as ever.
A recent YouGov poll found that 42% of people would never vote Tory, compared to 30% for Labour.

Even more worrying for David Cameron, as Mehdi Hasan points out, is that:

Not since 1974 has an incumbent prime minister pushed up his party's share of the vote.”
Not even Thatcher or Blair managed it.

Whatever is said about Ed Miliband, Labour’s share of the vote has held up well, and is currently at its highest level since the 2010 general election, with a lead of anything between 9 and 11%.
Not bad for a leader whose own ratings don’t measure up quite as well.

As leading psephologist, John Curtice of Strathclyde University, notes:
“It took the Tories several years, basically until Cameron came along [in 2005], to look electorally competitive, [but, in 2010] Labour got competitive again within a matter of months".

Exposing the incompetent and amateurish nature of this government hasn’t been too difficult.
Over the next three years, Ed Miliband’s challenge will be to draw up a set of distinct, brave, centre-left policies, with a splash of populism thrown in, whilst trying to claw back some of the 4 million working class voters lost since 1997.

This looks like a one term government. Time to unite the left.

This article was first published by Speaker's Chair on Sunday 22 April 2012

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