Is Ed’s head already on the chopping block?

Written By: Thomas Rainsborough
Published: May 23, 2011 Last modified: May 18, 2011

Following Labour’s rout in Scotland and the party’s inability to trouble David Cameron’s Conservatives to a serious degree in the local elections, the time has come to address two questions that no one dares to ask. Is Ed Miliband up to the task of leading Labour to victory? And is Miliband’s leadership being sabotaged from within?

Labour’s comprehensive defeat in Scotland casts severe doubts on whether the party can gain an overall majority at the next general election. The party’s competent but uninspiring results elsewhere in Britain also mirror the image that Ed Miliband has acquired since becoming leader. In the immediate aftermath of the regional, local and alternative vote referendum results, the sotto voce carping against Ed Miliband began.

While much of this comes from New Labour irreconcilables, the strong rumours that at least three of his frontbench team are considering walking from the Shadow Cabinet could yet set the narrative for Ed Miliband’s leadership.

Much will ride on how the party – and the media – judge his performance at Labour’s 2011 conference in Liverpool this autumn. But a big elephant trap awaits him next spring in London’s mayoral election. Should Labour’s Ken Livingstone lose out to Boris Johnson for a second time, which is a distinct possibility, the clamour for Ed Miliband to be replaced could become deafening.

There are some significant elements in the London Labour Party who are not particularly bothered whether Ken Livingstone wins or loses in May 2012. Some of them might actually prefer to see him defeated. Certainly there is little evidence of a powerful campaign machine getting behind Livingstone. This time he will be relying on Labour, rather than was the case in 2008 when the party needed  Livingstone to  its flagging fortunes more than he needed the party.

The Scottish election debacle is an ugly portent of what could happen. The party’s campaign was taken from the New Labour handbook: policy-lite with the accent on negativity. Telling the Scots that a vote for the Scottish National Party equated to a vote for independence insulted the intelligence of the voters. Alex Salmond offered a positive vision of the future and moved deftly into the social democratic space vacated by Labour to take its place as official opposition to the Conservatives north of the border. And now asking Jim Murphy to launch an “investigation” into what went wrong is the political equivalent of sending a quack doctor to deal with a heart attack.

Labour’s new leader was always going to face an uphill battle. The party’s performance at the 2011 general election was the worst since Margaret Thatcher’s landslide swamped Michael Foot in 1983. Party panjandrums had long ago decided that it was Ed Miliband’s brother David who should inherit the crown. Ed’s victory and the fact that it came courtesy of the trade union section of the electoral college was too much for them and the Conservative-leaning media to stomach.

Ed Miliband had few supporters in the Shadow Cabinet and a substantial number in the Parliamentary Labour Party who had supported his brother David. Not wishing to antagonise them further, the new leader set out to mollify them. He failed to move hard and fast against key elements of the party machine – still heavily influenced by former general secretary Margaret McDonagh. And he failed to make sure that an Ed Miliband loyalist became general secretary with immediate effect.

The first months of Ed Miliband’s leadership were marked by an openness and willingness to engage, and by the failure – thus far – to connect with the wider public. He has not shaken off the perception of him as wooden and scholarly, and he lacks the common touch. Whether David Miliband might have performed better in these circumstances is difficult to quantify. Professional politicians – those who are accused of never having had a proper job – have come to dominate all the main parties and Labour is no different. In any event, close observers report that Ed Miliband still sometimes appears shell-shocked, both at his leadership victory and the responsibility and burden now thrust upon him. They say that there are long periods when he simply doesn’t talk to people around him. Having invested rather more political capital in “the squeezed middle” than the most disadvantaged, Labour’s new leader has yet to define precisely what he stands for. There is a sense of drift.

Into this stasis comes “Blue Labour”. This is intriguing and, for some, a quite appealing attempt to undo the damage caused by New Labour’s aversion to the party’s former bedrock – the working class. Maurice Glasman, since ennobled by Ed Miliband, and Dagenham Labour MP Jon Cruddas are engaged in a political project that could pay some significant dividends for the Labour Party and its leader.

Whether this will be enough to ensure the return of lost voters north of the border is another matter. As far as some commentators are concerned, Blue Labour’s appeal is to the conservative (small “c”) working class. Does Ed Miliband see mileage in this? Will he put himself at the front of political initiatives such asthese that are aimed at re-connecting with Labour’s lost base?

Whatever he decides to do, he doesn’t have a huge amount of time left in which to do it. And, at present, we have to conclude that Ed Miliband is not capable of leading Labour to victory, especially as he appears to have allowed some of his internal opponents to tie his hands behind his back.


34 replies to “Is Ed’s head already on the chopping block?

  1. blakedw

    I’ve never heard of this author and have no idea where he is coming from. Nor does he show any indication of knowing that himself. 
    Certainly articles like this are a gift to the the Tories because anyone can write rubbish saying “there is a sense of drift.” The one thing which Labour does have is time. The next election will be in 2015. Pieces like this make me think I don’t need to read Tribune in the period till then.

  2. Anonymous

    I meant to add too, however, that there must be a disciplined approach to all this. 
    The problem is not about being ‘too left’ or ‘too right’ etc; it’s about encouraging celebration of what Labour has achieved, as well as what it hasn’t – which means more input from seasoned members as well as the younger ones, who may not realise just how awful things were in e.g. Mrs T’s administration. 
    We’ve moved a long way and learned a lot of good things as well as difficult ones, and I’d like that to be properly acknowledged.
    We should be, mianly, confronting the ConDems, not our own LP history.

  3. Geyza

     The labour parties performance in the 2010 general election was bad enough.  Winning less votes than even the hated John Major did in 1997, (and a smaller share of the vote too), but I do not believe that labour won a single vote in a 2011 general election, 

  4. Geyza

    This article raises some fair points.  After all, since Ed’s two year long comprehensive policy review, he has had no policies upon which to campaign.  Well, except one.  The same one which gained him the labour leadership after losing the leadership election vote.   Even then he lost most of his own parliamentary party and the labour party nationally on that one single solitary issue.  He was thrashed in Scotland and failed utterly to make any dent in the tories fortunes.

    I am a working class voter, from a labour heartland in the “most working class town in England” (according to the Guardian)  and I am exactly the sort of voter labour needs to win over to win the next election.  I am NOT impressed at all with Miliband’s leadership.

    As for hysterical outbursts about Thatcher from some other comments on here?  Well that is the most navel-gazing introspective nonsense.  Almost nobody is worried about the shadow of Thatcherism, except die-hard, devoted labour supporters (about 10% of the population).  When Employers in the private sector are screaming out about the unfairness of the increased costs of social policy under the tories, of extending maternity pay to men and allowing paternity leave of up-to SIX months.  There is no real fear in the country of draconian Thatcherism coming back anytime soon.  Even the reality of the so-called “savage cuts” are now proven false as the latest EU wide statistics show clearly how timid our cuts in the UK really are compared to many other countries.  Our 2.2% is even less than Germany’s 2.5% cuts, let alone the near 22% of Ireland’s.

    The painful truth is that the coalition Government out-flanks labour on the right and the left.  The government raising tax allowances on the poorest stands in STARK contrast to Gordon Brown’s freezing of allowances and doubling the income tax of thousands of the poorest workers from 20% to 20%.

    Screaming “THATCHER” every time a new policy is announced will not work as the coalition does more to be socially careful than labour actually did in power, and with less money available to spend too.  Labour can only set itself apart by creating an image of competence and excitement.  Both Milibands utterly fail to inspire as they are insipid, boring and have had charisma bypasses.  They are both inescapably tarnished with the rust of Brown’s failure too.  They do not have the credibility to present an alternative vision outside of labour’s core support. (who, like the tories core, would tribally vote for the party no matter what). 

    When this country remembers clearly the dying months of the Brown Government, many also remember the cowardice of those who had no faith in Brown, but who still came on camera to gushingly describe how Brown was “head and shoulders above everyone in the parliamentary labour party” and how he was “the ONLY labour member who was fit to lead labour into a general election”.

    So now labour are, by their own leader’s admission. led by people who are far worse than Brown.  Who was considered to be even worse than John Major when Major was at his least popular.  By implication Ed Miliband is worse than the man who was worse than John Major at his worst.  How the hell are we supposed to be inspired by this inexperienced failure who is worse than the worst leader labour has had for generations?

    When asked what actual experience of entrepreneurship Ed Miliband had, after trying to change the subject, he finally admitted that his Grandfather ran a business.  His Grandfather also died before Ed was born. So his only experience of real world business, is being related to a dead businessman, who he never ever met.  And this is the man who is supposed to lead labour to victory and save our ECONOMY???  With respect, WTF???

  5. To

    Labour sure has achieved a lot: a police state, God knows how many millions of immigrants, bribes of public sector non-jobs and benefits, rigging of postal ballots, surrendering sovereignity to EUSSR…

    Yeah, keep celebrating them.

  6. john

    What sort of party is the Labour Party ?
    It is not the party of the working class as it was seventy years ago; not the party of socialism as the Bennites hoped to create in the 1980s; not the party which will administer (and to an extent, redistribute) continuingly increasing wealth as Blair and Brown came to believe.
    The economic outlook is fairly bleak and many in the Labour Party (and the left in general)  appear to have worked themselves into a frenzy denouncing the ‘cuts’.
    In this they seem detached from many of those they set out to defend.
    People at the bottom in our society are used to insecurity; it is a given. For many, the cuts will simply be one more imposition. Most of these people have little loyalty to Labour.
    There is no easy way forward for Ed Milliband. It would be the same for his brother.
    The Blair/Brown government casts along shadow which Labour seems unwilling to deal with.

  7. Anonymous

    Ed’s victory and the fact that it came courtesy of the trade union section of the electoral college was too much for them and the Conservative-leaning media to stomach.
    Apart from, the BBC, Channel 4 News, Sky News, The Guardian, The Independent, The Daily Mirror, all the local press owned by The Daily Mirror and The Guardian Media Group and all the radio stations owned by The Guardian Media Group. It really is amazing how Ed has survived so long with so few media outlets sympathetic to him and Labour.    

  8. Alan Douglas

    “And is Miliband’s leadership being sabotaged from within?”

    ANY Labour leadership is sabotaged by 13 years of the EXPERIENCE of Labour, rather than the spin and theory of it.

    Alan Douglas

  9. Alan Douglas

    “And is Miliband’s leadership being sabotaged from within?”

    ANY Labour leadership is sabotaged by 13 years of the EXPERIENCE of Labour, rather than the spin and theory of it.

    Alan Douglas

  10. To

    Of course the fact that BBC – which is a taxpayer-funded monopoly that is a mouthpiece of the treacherous Left
    - alone controls 35% of the media alone in this country is not enough for commies like you. 
    Another of the Left’s pamphlet-pushers The Guardian is funded by taxpayers which gives it the monopoly of public sector advertisements.
    Also, Guardian is graced by the presence of luminaries like Poly Toynbee – the great anti-poverty campaigner who happens to be a multi-millionaire with a villa in Tuscany – who campaigns tirelessly against tax-dodging companies – except the Guardian of course.

    Do you not get tired of your own bullshit sometimes?

  11. Anonymous

    Ed won the leadership campaign. The so called “Union” vote that clinched it for him was all those people, like me, who had left the party. We believed that Ed’s campaign based on “getting” what was wrong in labour convionced us not to go over totally to the Greens and Nationalists or more sectarian Socialist “splitters”.

    If David had won, It would have been Blair all over again and the Labour Party would be finished as any sort of meaningful Socialist or Braodly social democratic groupoing.

  12. Geyza

     ED lost the vote, was not supported by his own Parliamentary party and only got the job because the perversity of the AV system. Ed was a big reason why many people (me included) voted against AV in the referendum.

  13. Anonymous

    Oh dear. 

    I expect you are a bloke?  Or at the very least probably not a mum with young children?

    Sure Start…   recognising the challenges of climate change….  new build programmes for schools….  improvements (many) to the NHS….

    These are not ideological things, but the pragmatic realities of life for many so-called ‘ordinary’ people. 

    I wish as do many that Labour had done even more; but dissing what was achieved, some of it in the face of serious opposition, really should not be the order of the day.  Let’s try to be a bit fairer, please.

    And it would be helpful if those who follow their ideologies and / or their unpleasant imaginations (sorry, but what else politely am I to call the references above?) recognised that others, of all sorts, still have to live day by day in the real world; and Labour’s central task should be to offer real and strategic help to do this.

    But I fear that perhaps this isn’t going to be a rational debate, so unless persuaded otherwise will stop here.

    Cheers

  14. Anonymous

     Please see response below, for a positive example or two from the real world of every day life.  Thanks.

  15. Anonymous

    Look at the YouGov poll about perceptions of Party Leaders. 
    * 32% think he’s doing well and 51% badly (Cameron is 47:48)
    * 25% think he’d be the best PM (Cameron: 38%)
    * His ratings for Strong, Good in a crisis, Decisive,  A natural leader, Charismatic are 8%, 5%, 9%, 6% and 6% (Cameron’s are 24%, 16%  26%  20% and 25%)

    While Ed is “leader” Labour have no chance at all.

  16. Anonymous

    I take you, and the people who liked your post, don’t understand irony. Suggestion: read the dictionary definition of ” irony”, then reread my post and then apologise. 

  17. Matt Davis

    Well that does rather neatly encapsulate the problem alluded to by Thomas Rainsborough in his article above.

    You do appear to believe that nice middle class Guardian reader pleasing policies such as Sure Start, Climate Change action and the rest are genuine achievements, which in the case of Sure Start at least is unarguable, and as such are enough to win an election. Meanwhile the dispossessed conservative (with a small c) working class voters, who Labour must reconnect with in order to win, couldn’t care less about most of those things. Their priorities are immigration, economic growth and their own prosperity, crime and public safety and educational standards, not shiny new buildings.

    Since clearly the current Coalition Government is failing them on those very issues it does present an open goal at which Labour ought to be shooting repeated, on target, salvos. But that isn’t happening which leaves those same voters feeling even less inclined to Labour, who they perceive as being no more than the guilt ridden middle classes doing their Lady Bountiful act about the issues that those same Guardianistas care about even though the working poor do not.

    There is a serious and election losing disconnect here and trumpeting New Labour’s supposed achievements will make that worse and not better.

  18. Matt Davis

    Perhaps, but the choice is stark and clear; either you can have a meaningful Socialist grouping OR you can win elections. The hard evidence is that you cannot have both.

    So which is it to be then; ideological purity or real power?

  19. PinkPolitika

    Sure Start doesn’t yet exist in ‘nice middle class’ areas; and I see you are not (I think, unless your name deceives me?) a mother of young children.  I doubt too that you have ever had the care completely on your own of a small child/ren for any length of time, even just one day?

    Nobody says – contrary to your claim above – that Sure Start etc are enough alone to win any election, but it doesn’t help that you (v wrongly) assume ‘working class’ parents don’t appreciate it.  I can assure you, from close quarters and with proper evidence, that very many do.  Or are the views of working clas women irrelevant to your analysis?

    As I amongst many others personally know, caring of small children is much, much more challenging than those who haven’t done it imagine.

    It would be condescending in the extreme, and totally erroneous, if anyone suggested that ‘working class’ parents are less concerned about caring for small children than are other parents. 

    Sure Start is really important and we, all of us, have an obligation to promote and protect it.

    Re your claim that working class people not wanting Sure Start, where’s your testable / factual evidence? 

    Unless you have some real evidence, I’ll leave it at that.

    Cheers.

  20. Mark Bailey

    “Mothers with young children”.

    What proportion of the electorate do you think that consists of? Less than 7% is the answer. I think you need to come up with something with more grip if you are ever going to devise a strategy for re-election.

    And, no, I’m not a mother with young children. Sheesh!

  21. Anonymous

    If I’d gone for Ideological purity, I’d have voted for Diane Abbott. I Joined the Party for the first time when John Smith brought in OMOV. I hate Militant and all its works. I’m a Socialist because I’m a Democrat.
     Isn’t Ed’s problem that the “Ideological purity” of the New Labourites is (or more likely their desire for jobs and status) is splitting the party?  – New Labour for me is summed up by The smug grin of “rocking the Boat” Hazel Blears causing as much damage to the Party as the refusal to invest in NON MEANS TESTED social housing so that the Blairs MAndelsons and Blears of this party could Carpet bag Property Dosh mostly on Expenses. 

    I was against AV too. But in Ed’s case (when EVERYBODY’s second vote counted) it worked.
     
    Blair was good Electorally but he ripped the heart out of the party, HE was in power not the Party. We managed to squeeze some concessions im terms of social justice but the price was too high – an UNethical foreign policy, continued privatisation and an il-liberal law and order policy etc.

    A return New Labour will only split the party and most likely split the union. Wales would soon follow Scotland into independence if Right of Centre Parties were the only realistic choice for Government.

  22. Anonymous

    I ask myself one question – Can I see Ed Milliband as a prime minister. The answer is most definitely NO. I might add the same applies to Ed Balls as well. The party needs a quick change at the top. Without that they will not get a look in at the next general election. For what it’s worth I can’t see Ken doing any better. 

  23. Charlie Haberl

    It appears to me as a casual and recent returning observer that all of the British political parties lack any form of real talent or people with broad appeal and Labour worst of all.
    Huge swathes of the “working class” liked and supported Margaret Thatcher and Norban Tebbit. John Major was appreciated for his humble origins as is David Davies and, in a bizarre display, Labour attacks on Ken Clarke this week rebounded as the vast mass of people showed they actually liked and agreed with him.
    Blair won over the middle classes for a considerable period of time, but since he left the stage the thiness of Labour talent has been revealed for all to see. Petty backstabbing and manouvering, smears and schoolboy politics does not impress Joe the Plumber. Alan Johnson, a “normal” bloke and an extremely charismatic figure has been edged out by the smear brigade and the cluster of spiteful litttle no-hopers who gather in camera shot with Ed Milliband at PMQs have about as much appeal as three day old dead cat. There is no one in sight who could lead Labour to an election victory now, or in four years time.
    Of course the Tories are not THAT much better, but like Queen Mary I who surrounded herself with especially ugly and fat ladies-in-waiting, they look good by comparison.

  24. Anonymous

    “conservative-leaning media”. What, like the BBC, or do you mean The Guardian, or perhaps the Independent or The Mirror or Channel 4 news. Come off it, the right does not have a monopoly in the media.

  25. To

    It’s quite obvious what kind of idiots support Labour and read magazines like these. 

    They think after 13 years of profligacy, treason
    and a total destruction of our culture, the country is desperate for Labour to come back in 2015.

    Only utter lunatics are capable of thinking so. The country does not want another Labour government. For a very, very long time. So whether it’s Milliband, Millipede, Balls, Bollocks, or any other bullshitter – the result will be the same.

    And thank God for that.

    Enjoy your long holiday in oblivion.

    Bye bye.

    And good riddance. Only a little too late for this country as it is now beyond repair.

  26. Anonymous

    Unfortunately Ed doesn’t have the ‘prescence ‘ of a PM, whatever his policies may be; and whether he is left right or centre and is sincere and honest and focused is all immaterial.
    Ed suffers from the same problem that Kinnock Hague IDS and Howard all faced: In the public’s mind they were not PM material. And nothing but nothing  would change that perception however hard they worked to change their image, from baseball caps to combovers to batswings. The sooner Ed sees that that the better, and then Labour can move on.   
    If he ever does make it to PM then it’ll be as the ‘Accidental PM’ because of the complete incompetance of the Coalition

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