Will the other Ed be leader within the year?

Will the other Ed be leader within the year?

Is it worth the 14/1 on offer?

Ed Miliband’s decision to publicly criticise and oppose the striking public sector workers this week was a brave and for him, a potentially dangerous one. It didn’t help that Miliband’s own advocacy of the line was less than convincing, as HenryG pointed out in yesterday’s thread. It’s true that the unions involved aren’t affiliated to the Labour Party but they do contain many Labour supporters (all the more with the Lib Dems involved in the reforms), and the union movement’s sense of solidarity goes beyond who is affiliated where.

It’s also true that talks are ongoing and most unions haven’t balloted for strike action. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a sense of support amongst the rest for those who have and there’s certainly been no criticism coming from the likes of Unite or Unison aimed at the NUT or PCS. Miliband has isolated himself for the second time in a fortnight following his decision last to take on his MPs over Shadow Cabinet elections.  He did get support on the airwaves from Tessa Jowell but more senior shadow cabinet ministers kept a lower profile; Jowell will not be a contender for a future leadership vacancy.

In going so openly against the strikes, Miliband has also made it more difficult for himself, and for his colleagues serving under him, to support them should other unions join the fray. He has left himself some wiggle room in adding the rider about ‘while talks continue’ but that’s detail well beyond what most people will see.

The big questions are how much more of Ed’s leadership Labour can take, will the party move against him and if so, when. The polling remains at best adequate and the Inverclyde by-election demonstrated again that it’s the SNP riding high north of the border; the Con to Lab swing there was just 0.01%.  Labour’s share of the vote fell, though it did remain an absolute majority.

I wrote last week that because of the vote on Shadow Cabinet elections, Labour now have a good opportunity to deal Miliband’s leadership a decisive and possibly fatal blow. His mishandling of the unions means he has less support to call on within the Labour movement (or indeed at the Labour conference, where union support remains important).  In fact, it’s difficult to find a good answer to the question of where his powerbase now is.

Ladbrokes are offering 14/1 that Ed Balls will be Labour leader before 1 June 2012. This isn’t as good as the 33/1 they offered before an anonymous punter backed it at a southern port while on his way to the continent on holiday, but it’s still not a bad offer.

If Miliband does fall, it’s likely to be sooner rather than later. The more it’s put off, the more reasons will be found to put it off further. There may also not be as good a chance again both in conditions and mechanics. Without being offered a vote on a plate, either someone has to actively move against him or it’s down to exerting pressure.

I still don’t think it probable that Labour will bring him down – it goes against the grain of instinct and tradition and there is a shortage of alternatives. But Miliband is in a vulnerable position and relying more on others not acting than on his own intrinsic strength. My own guess is that it’s a 25-35% chance that he’ll be out by this time next year.

If he does go, is Balls best placed to replace him? Probably he is. On the thin-pope-fat-pope principle, Labour would be looking for someone who is not the things that were the reasons why Miliband would have been dumped. David Miliband ticks too many of the same boxes and may not even stand; Ed Balls doesn’t and surely would. That he has other failings (and polls even worse than EdM), would be less of a factor. Balls also has the union connections. It wouldn’t be a shoo-in but the 14/1 odds on the bet on balance look just about attractive.

David Herdson

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