Politics

How Ed Miliband lost his winning hand

You can't run a '35 per cent strategy' when the Greens have knocked your vote into the low thirties

8 November 2014

9:00 AM

8 November 2014

9:00 AM

Ed Miliband’s internal critics used to complain that he had a 35 per cent strategy. They claimed that his unambitious plan was to eke out a technical victory by adding a chunk of left-wing Liberal Democrats to the 29 per cent of voters who stayed loyal to Labour in 2010. Those close to Miliband were infuriated by this attack, insisting that their election strategy was far more expansive. Today, however, 35 per cent would sound pretty good to Labour, now becalmed in the low thirties in the polls.

Miliband might never have had a 35 per cent strategy. But he did have a strategic insight that makes Labour’s current predicament all the more striking: he was determined to keep the left united. He realised that the coalition gave Labour a chance to realign British politics; to reunite the left in support of a single party. Add to this the split on the right between the Tories and Ukip, and it was possible to see how Miliband could have the same electoral advantage that Thatcher had in the 1980s when her opponents’ vote was divided. Miliband, who is as ideologically certain as Thatcher was, saw this as his great opening.

But look at the numbers and Miliband’s grand plan to unify the left is in deep trouble. A recent poll that had Labour down as low as 29 per cent put the Greens on 6 per cent. Now this Green advance is far less dramatic than the Ukip surge. But it is important electorally, particularly given that Miliband has been a darling of green groups. He courted them hard when he was energy and climate change secretary and carried on the relationship as Labour leader. Indeed, even when he announced his plan to freeze energy prices in 2013 — a thoroughly un-green idea — they bit their tongues out of admiration for him. Miliband, for his part, used his most recent conference speech to commit himself again to decarbonising Britain’s electricity supply by 2030, a foolhardy and expensive proposition beloved of environmentalists. But Miliband’s personal commitment to the green agenda has not been sufficient to stop the rise of the Greens.

The Greens, though, are only one part of Milband’s flank problem. In Scotland, the SNP — whose move to the left will only pick up pace under Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership — are threatening to knock over a slew of Labour seats in 2015.


So, how did this 50p tax rate-supporting, anti-Iraq war, pro-green politician end up with a problem on his left? Well, one answer is that this is all part of the great turn away from the established parties. Those close to Miliband do not deny that they face a crisis. Yet they argue, quite reasonably, that the disaggregation of politics is a crisis for all the established parties. After all, the same poll that had Labour on 29 per cent put the Tories on just 30 per cent; other surveys have Labour ahead, and Cameron is heading for his second by-election loss of the autumn to Ukip in Rochester. Indeed, both Labour and the Tories console themselves with the thought that the other party’s position is even worse.

But the worry for Labour is that this trouble on the left is, in part, a reaction to their leader. Public opinion about him seems to be calcifying. It is particularly alarming for Labour to find their leader with worse ratings in some polls than Clegg, a man who they have gleefully mocked for the last four and a half years for his unpopularity.

This is not all Miliband’s fault, by any means, even if he has been the author of some of his own misfortune. He is bearing the brunt of the anti-politics tide that is buffeting Westminster. Cameron is protected from the worst of this by his office, but Miliband gets the full force of it. Even some of who sympathise with the Labour leader worry that criticism of him has gone from being a political thing to a cultural meme.

I understand that Miliband is planning to respond to this crisis as he has previous ones: by making a speech. In the past, Miliband has delivered addresses good enough to silence his critics — albeit temporarily — and help him regain the political initiative. But with only six months to go to polling day, it is debatable whether another oration is what Miliband needs. This is especially true as it was this year’s conference speech that marked the beginning of his awful autumn.

Nevertheless, in previous difficult times speeches have got Miliband out of trouble. There is also something ironic in his current predicament in that Miliband was aware before many other Westminster politicians of several of the forces that are riling British politics. In the Labour leadership contest he talked eloquently about how the constant focus on swing voters had left many feeling alienated from politics. He was determined to make arguments from first principles again, to make sure that no one could say that the main parties are all the same. Yet the left seems unresponsive to Miliband’s determination to put clear water between Labour and the Tories.

One cause for hope for the Milibandites is that the Americans are coming. David Axelrod, a guru to Barack Obama who was signed up by Labour to much fanfare earlier this year but has not been much in evidence recently, will be heading to these shores soon. Arnie Graf, the community organiser whose work has so impressed Miliband, is also due to return to Britain shortly.

But what is alarming for Labour is that it is not obvious how they pull out of this downward spiral. Opposition parties rarely put on votes in the last few months of a parliament and Miliband has already fired several of his best policy shots.

‘The pieces have all been thrown up in the air and we don’t know where they are going to land,’ admits one member of Ed Miliband’s inner circle. The great challenge for the Labour leader is to seize this moment of flux to reshape politics to his advantage. Favourable constituency boundaries and the Tories’ Ukip problems mean that Miliband is not in as dire trouble as a first glance at the polls suggests. But he won’t find the answers to his problems on Hampstead Heath or Primrose Hill. He needs an electoral proposition, not an anecdote.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10


Show comments
  • it’s going to be an interesting 6 or 7 months to the next election! at the moment all the debate & action is between political keenbeans such as myself, guardianistas, greens and kippers. but by election day i think the ‘great british public’ will head for the centre, and the winner will be the party that owns that. it’s not too late for Ed, or DC.

    • TruthBeatsLies

      Forget “The Centre” Ed…! – we want “HARD LEFT” Socialism…
      viz: a Government Of the People, By the People, For the People…!!!

      Kick-Out Greedy Government

      • Jules Wright

        But the left means Greedy Government. Haven’t you noticed?

        A big, fat, bloated, behemothic, statist, corporatist, overloaded, over-employed, intrusive, highly taxing, wasteful, gerrymandering monster. Compare the size of government in 1997 to the size of government in 2010. That the problem is worse in 2014 just goes to show how much damage the Left does when its lizard socialist hands reach the levers of power. Out of control and arguably unrecoverable.

    • AJ

      I was once a Tory party supporter and If you truly are a Tory voter with your country at heart, Ukipifyouwantto, then I suggest you change your allegiance to UKIP, because the Tories have moved so far to the left that they are unrecognisable as a conservative party by any stretch of the imagination, they’ve been watered down to a hardcore of fruitcakes, loonies and closet socialists, whose voter base is rapidly vaporising and changing into UKIP voters . They are not the legendary Tory party of olde, who Churchill or Thatcher led, more like the Tory party of touchy feely socialists, not for me any more thank you, they don’t represent my views.

  • TruthBeatsLies

    Ed’s already got a “New Idea” – it’s called 100% Hard Left. Just like his old Dad.

    The only ones in the Labour Party who pretend that he’s “failing,” are those on the Right who secretly still support Phony Bliar and his Capitalist ethos, which is an athema

    Well I don’t support their Capitalist ethos either, and I’d like to see Ed Milliband lead a genuine Socialist Labour Government by doing what he wants to do – save this failing country by implementing an up-dated philosophy of Clement Attlee’s…!!!

    • Grant Newsham

      “genuine Socialist Labour Government”

      You mean a bunch of, left wing, immoral thieves who want to socially engineer the country at my (the taxpayer) expense?

      Government is supposed to govern and create the conditions for employment – not be the employer and remake society as an ant colony. I know such rubbish is popular with PPE grads who have never worked for a living except to try to be elected officials but it doesn’t fly with those who actually work for a living.

      • TruthBeatsLies

        I mean “a bunch of Left Wing” politicians of provably unapproachable moral standing who intend to socially engineer the country solely at the taxpayer’s, means-tested, expense. A country where the trading motto “Let the Buyer Beware” is replaced with a more people-friendly one – “Let The Seller Beware…!!!”

        Under Ed Miliband we intend to change this country from one where big-business rules the roost – (and is permitted to pay its CEOs and executive managing class just about whatever it damn-well feels like!) – to one of irreproachable fairness where fundamental needs of the ordinary man and woman in the street rule the roost…! Capiche’…???

        • Grant Newsham

          “I mean “a bunch of Left Wing” politicians of provably unapproachable moral standing”

          No such thing I am afraid – this is the Earth not Utopia.

          But your first and fatal failing is the want to socially engineer in the first place. This is an anathema to humanity. We aren’t ants despite the wishes of the deluded leftist intelligentsia.

          Your concept of fairness is Draconian fiat basically fuelled by envy.

          Under Milliband???? LOL – surely you jest. He’s the typical PPE grad who doesn’t understand the concept of work never mind actually do any. Typical elitist snob.

          The ordinary man and woman in the street can’t balance their current account – they shouldn’t be within a light year of anything of importance.

          What always amazes me is the left wing intelligentsia of the Labour Party and their love of social engineering and multiculturalism despite the fact their largest group of voters are white working class who usually despise immigrants and only want endless array of taxpayer funded services.

          They are fundamentally at odds with their base and can only get the votes by bribery. Most UKIP support isn’t from Tories it is from the white working class who normally vote Labour. Many in my family vote BNP though traditionally they were Labour.

          The Labour party have confused the word govern with provide – hence the UK public being hand held and nannied babies who need the government to lead them through life. Pathetic !!!!

          • TruthBeatsLies

            “Your concept of fairness is Draconian fiat basically fuelled by envy.”

            Wrong…! Our “concept of fairness” relies on nothing but precise comparison and scrupulously fair pay incentives available to EVERYONE – BUT never offering more than TWICE the potential income to any one person over another.

            In other words, everyone must resign him or herself to a prosperity prospect of – TWICE AS MUCH WILL DO…!!!

            And the lowest paid will still receive ENOUGH to live on…

            Leading to CONTENTMENT…!!! Of the kind all good parents are taught to expect of their children – Capiche’…???

            The only citizens who may think they’ve lost out, will be those who are greediest among us – who are perfectly free to go elsewhere, and the sooner the better…!!!

          • No1important

            My lord what a fool, trying to socially engineer what big businesses can pay and to who, wake up this is the 21st century such a stupid idea has never worked in the past and certainly has zero chance of working in a globalised, web based economy. The business will just relocate and sell from over seas, and the talent will just follow; the outcome will be a brain drain, a UK investment, business collapse, huge unemployment, plummeting tax revenue and fast economic decline. How do you not see this? get your head out of the idealogical social fairness cloud, and take off your red tinted spectacles and see the world how it is and how it works.

          • kappa_cephei

            I have a company of just under 200 employees. My lowest paid worker is on approx. 25K per year (converting to pounds) – my highest made about 1.2M last year with bonuses.

            My lowest an office assistant/secretarial type with high school only (3 years experience) – my highest has a PhD in Mathematics (Stanford) and 25 years experience in developing financial models. And you are telling me I am going to pay them within a factor of two?????

            Get lost.

          • dramocles

            That would be something like M. Hollande is working towards in France then?

            Good luck with that……..

          • isthisreallife2

            “Most UKIP support isn’t from Tories it is from the white working class who normally vote Labour. ”

            Yeah right! The only Labour voters defecting to UKIP are the ones who have been conned into believing that UKIP are anti-establishment and represent the ordinary man on the street.

            Of course they are not told that UKIP in fact idolise Thatcher and neoliberal market forces. They are not told that UKIP intend to redistribute away from the poor to the rich in the form a more regressive tax system. They are not told of UKIPs real agenda to sell off the NHS and increase spending on the military etc etc etc. Closer to the election (especially in the televised debates) Milliband will expose these policies. It will be interesting to see what happens to UKIPs polling then!!

          • gerontius

            Of course they are not told that UKIP………

            But what they have figured out, all by themselves, is that the Labour Party has systematically screwed them over.

    • Grace Ironwood

      There is not yet enough money available for to Labour spend to enable the kind of “success: you envisage.

  • Leftyliesrefuted

    Poor old Millipede! Even with the rigged electoral boundaries and all those, ahem, helpful postal votes, not to mention all those Client State voters, getting significantly more than 32-33% of the vote really seems to be out of his grasp now.

    It really does take a heart of stone not to laugh ;).

    • Hopi Sen

      And let’s not forget that UKip is the biggest joke!

      • AJ

        Millipede is finished the press and media smell blood, its just a matter of time, it has always been so and always will be so. Pity really, he was a great help to us with all his bungling and ineptitude, UKIP will miss him greatly, bye bye Milli.

      • Polly Radial

        That’s right, comrade – never compromise with the electorate!

      • gerontius

        As witty as you are profound Hopi.

      • Colin

        You’re pretty funny yourself…

  • WFB56

    Axelrod is grossly overrated. His smoke and mirrors worked for Obama in 2008 but in 2012 the Obama vote was lower and 2014 was a blow-out in favour of the Republicans.
    In addition to Axelrod having a weaker candidate in Milliband and a stronger opponent in Cameron, he won’t have as fully compliant a press gallery as the one he enjoys in America.
    Fortunately for those of us who are not Labour supporters, they’re wasting their money on this overrated turnip.

  • anyfool

    The Yanks are coming, would these Yanks be the same ones who laid the groundwork for the Democrats worst results since the War.
    What planet are you on, did you not see the results on the 4th of Nov, are you orbiting Eds space station.

    • Grace Ironwood

      These democrats are famous for their skills with digital technology, gambits in the court system and ethnic voter fraud.
      I have my doubts as to how intuitive the yanks can be when it comes to Britishculture. There is less of a cultural gulf with Australians like Crosby who has also had more time to settle in..

  • davidofkent

    I’m sure he has a ‘cunning plan’. However, it may involve sticking pencils up his nose and wearing his underpants on his head.

  • Peter Stroud

    Miliband is an unfortunate figure, regardless of his political views. Watching his brother on TV last week made me realise just how much he had going for him – when compared with Labour’s leader. And I have no time for either’s politics. But could any other Labour politician mend Labour’ broken Party before next May? Ed has lived up to his Red title: he is seen as heir to Brown. What other major figure can return Labour to a more Blairite party, in six months? I feel that this is needed if Labour has any chance of winning: but there is no one with the necessary talent. Thank God.

  • Captain Concerned

    I rather hope he survives, at least until the election. The Conservatives need all the help they can get!

  • Michael H Kenyon

    You don’t think he is so desperate he’ll make a broad left coalition with the SNP and the Greens, however useless and catastrophic it will be? Add those seats up, and he’s probably home.

    • Alexsandr

      greens -how many seats will they get? probably keep the one in Brighton
      SNP? Well Labour and SNP hate each other in Scotland so thats a problem. And SNP dont vote on English matters so how would Millipede get English matters through the HoC?
      and Palid are vulnerable to UKIP in Cymru….
      maybe the welsh will wake up the the complete clusterfcuk Labour have made of the Welsh NHS.

      and lets not consider labour losing votes in the Northern cities. I cant see white working class voters liking paedophiles much.

  • Labour’s other great mistake is to see UKIP as a Tory problem. But the rise of the greens has been making me smile for some time now. 3-way split on the left? Yes please!

  • Terry Field

    There can be no ‘realignment of the left. The left relied on debt based extravaganza for almost the entire twentieth century.
    No commentators are current with the following interlocking realities:
    Grotesque over-population of consumers, wrecking the globe.
    Consistently declining resource availability.
    No change in our tribal carnivore natures that stops us from managing these degrading circumstances
    Climate change to provide increasing drought, poverty, agricultural collapse and inter and intra-tribal violence.
    I am not being apocalyptic; just observing the realities.
    Solutions may exist, but they are unlike the continuation of our historical pathway; there is no sign we wish to take them. against these and other new problems we have not experienced before, ‘realigning the left’ is an absurdly trivial joke.

  • Mukkinese

    Strange how we get a sustained press campaign based on the hearsay of 3 anonymous Labour rebels and yet hear almost nothing about the 22 named Tory M.P.’s who have long called for Cameron to stand down.

    Strange that the campaign goes into overdrive just as the government gets caught lying…

  • thomasaikenhead

    So Maureen Lipman will get what she wanted?

Close