Having just returned from my summer break (two weeks in the Lake District, especially when coinciding with unusually good summer weather, has done me the world of good) I’ve decided it’s a good time to start blogging again.
Of course, I’ve returned to Denton in the middle of the annual ‘silly season’, where comments are often misconstrued and blown out of all proportion by a hostile media, especially when there’s a political narrative to be had. The latest string of stories are that Labour is not doing nearly as well enough under the current leadership: Labour is slipping in the polls. Labour is too quiet on a number of key issues. Where’s Ed?
Let’s debunk the claims being made:
Firstly, the opinion polls. For those of us schooled in the politics of the mid 1990s, it can be frustrating that we are not repeating the 20 and 30 per cent leads over the Conservatives enjoyed by the Blair Opposition. Of course, circumstances back then were very different. Tony was undeniably a brilliant politician, but let’s not forget he inherited a Party that had been in Opposition then for a decade and a half. Memories of the 1974-79 Labour Government had pretty much receded from the collective public mind by then; and the process of political change and policy renewal had already begun in earnest under Neil Kinnock after the 1987 defeat.
Now looking at the stats, Labour has gained a respectable poll lead (today’s YouGov has Labour on 41% to the Tories’ 33%), and it has remained fairly stable for the past two years. So one shouldn’t read too much into daily or monthly blips – or, importantly, the newspaper headlines they generate. And Labour’s ground operation in the recent local elections shows that by targeting resources in the places we need to win back (Lincoln, Hastings, Harlow and the likes) we can achieve some very good results. The key will be to hold on to, and to solidify, this lead in the 18 months ahead, and particularly in the ‘short campaign’ through April and early May 2015.
This leads me on to the second point: 2015 will be a very different contest, and I suspect Ed Miliband recognised this from the very start of his leadership bid.
Certainly, the Coalition Government is unpopular, but it’s not going to be enough to merely champion a cause against an unpopular administration, or to win by default. That was tried in the past – in 1983, 1987 and to some extent also in 1992 – and it did not work, and it won’t work for us in 2015 either.
We need to set out how a Miliband Labour Government will be different, not just to the incumbent Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, but also to the Blair and Brown Labour years; because the truth is people will still remember, and if not, our opponents will be only too keen to remind them (despite the many undisputed successes of our 13 years in office) of the failings – perceived or actual – of those administrations.
So the Labour Party is currently developing its policy platform for 2015, and in many areas has started to flesh out some good ideas that will make a tangible difference to the electorate: in economic policy, on the squeeze in living standards, and how a Labour Government would help those most feeling the pinch; in housing policy, setting out how a Labour Government will build more homes; in energy policy, by tackling the power of the ‘big six’, to bring soaring utility bills down; and in health, we have been working up the ‘whole person care’ concept.
Yes there’s a heck of a lot more work that needs to be done in the coming months, not only to develop firmer policy positions in other areas, but, most importantly, to let the public know what we’re about: the point Andy Burnham was making last week.
The one conclusion I draw from all this, is being Leader of the Opposition is a thankless task! It leads me on to the final, and, in my opinion, the most unfair of the charges: Where’s Ed?
It’s totally unfair because from day one Ed has led the Labour Party from the very front, and has not shied away from the difficult decisions he’s had to take.
Look at the Leveson inquiry. Many a Leader of the Opposition would have steered well clear of the issue, not least for fear of upsetting a certain media mogul. Ed decided this was an issue that had to be tackled, and he was frankly right: no wonder some sections of the printed media are so agin him! Look also at the masterful way he tore apart the Osborne Omnishambles Budget. And how he has changed the way the party hierarchy now campaigns: speaking directly to people in town hall meetings, or on the election stump, recognising that too often, people have felt like politicians haven’t listened to them. No wonder the slippery Cameron doesn’t now want an election debate!
Yes, leadership means people look to you to do just that – and take the lead – but ensuring there is an effective Labour voice is not Ed’s job alone, it is the collective responsibility of all Shadow Ministers, from the Shadow Cabinet level down.
I have absolutely no doubt that Ed is up to the task, but this is also a challenge for the entire Labour Team from now until the General Election, because the people I represent are crying out for real change and desperately need a Miliband Labour Government to be elected in 2015.