Please note this piece was written before the recent polling putting the Tories ahead
If the voting in the next General Election reflects current opinion polling, Ed Miliband will become Prime Minister next May. Of course, the Conservatives are hopeful that the polls will shift before then, but, as things stand today, the possibility of a Labour-led government, either in a hung parliament or with a small majority, is certainly a very real one. TheÂ betting marketscurrently make it around a 50% chance that Ed and Justine will move into No 10.
If so, it will be a remarkable turnaround for the Labour Party following the 2010 defeat, but not one which seems to be based on any great enthusiasm for the party amongst the electorate. Ed Miliband’s ownÂ ratings are dire, confidence in the party’s economic competence isÂ notable by its absence, and theÂ policy cupboard is quite remarkably bare. If Ed does become PM, it will be by default, on the back of the core Labour vote, disgruntled ex-LibDems, and division amongst his opponents.
All the same, you might have expected that the prospect of getting back into power so soon, with UKIP taking lumps out of the Tories’ electoral chances, would have electrified the Labour Conference, that morale would be good, and that Labour supporters’ attention would be moving to what a Labour government would be able to achieve. Not so:
“The atmosphere at its annual conference in Manchester has not been that of a party headed for power…. Ed Miliband’s big conference speech, which did not mention Britain’s budget deficit once, failed to lift the mood. “It’s all so depressing,” said one MP. “It’s not really what we call leadership. I think we’re stuffed.”, wroteÂ Jim Pickard in the Financial Times.
“Rather than an infantry advancing on Downing Street, Labour resembled a wounded army in need of convalescence”Â , notedGeorge Eaton in the New Statesman.Â “As one shadow cabinet minister put it: “We might fall over the line.” The air of resignation that suffused Manchester was born of the awareness that the best Labour can now hope for is a scrappy win.”
These are the sort of comments you might expect to see towards the end of a party’s period in power, not at the start of a rebirth. Yet, if Labour does form the next government, it will have some very serious issues to address, most notably the need, admitted on all sides, for further and deeper public spending cuts. There is no sign that the party is preparing itself for the tough challenges ahead, still less that they are relishing those challenges. After Ed Miliband’s dire Conference speech and the failure to forge a coherent policy package, and given the rumblings of discontent amongst senior Labour figures, he looks far from being able to provide effective leadership in very difficult conditions and against the grain of Labour’s love affair with big-spending. Things would be particularly hard for him in a hung parliament or with a very small majority, having to fend off rebellions and ambushes.
- This all suggests that a Miliband government, starting off with no real enthusiasm, would very soon plumb the depths of unpopularity President Hollande has seen in France. But there’s one big difference: a French president cannot realistically be dislodged once he is in office. A British Prime Minister can be; in practice, whatever the formal rule book says, all it takes is for his senior cabinet colleagues to tell him to go.
Yvette Cooper or Andy Burnham, and perhaps one or two others, are much more popular in the party than Ed is, and seem more credible and bigger figures than he does, as their Conference speeches showed. No move can be made before the election, but I’d be surprised if they are not thinking along the lines I have indicated. Ed could indeed become PM in May 2015 – but perhaps not for very long.
Richard Nabavi is a long standing contributor to PB.