Ed Miliband has not had a good start to the year. There has been a run of unhelpful stories, and now an opinion poll which suggests that the only opposition leaders for a generation whose popular standing was worse than his were Michael Foot and Iain Duncan Smith. The latest survey by YouGov, for The Sunday Times, showed that 20 per cent think Miliband is doing well, but 66 per cent say he is doing badly. That is a score of minus 46.
YouGov's President, Peter Kellner, has studied the historical comparisons, and found that at similar points in their tenures as opposition leader, William Hague was on minus 26, and Iain Duncan Smith on minus 39, so Miliband "hovers roughly halfway between Hague and Duncan Smith – not happy precedents."
He is also way behind Neil Kinnock, who averaged a score of minus 13 in his second year, but ahead of Michael Foot, whose second year average was minus 54.
Even Nick Clegg has a slightly more positive score than the Labour leader, with 21 per cent thinking he is doing well, though he also has a larger number doing badly, giving him a net score of minus 49, which is slightly worse than Miliband's.
These figures are fuel for those who speculate that Miliband may not last another 12 months as Labour leader. But precedent is on Ed Miliband's side. No Labour leader has been ousted since Ramsay MacDonald supplanted JR Clynes in 1921, in the days when all that was required was a simple vote at the annual meeting of Labour MPs. Prising Ed Miliband out of office would require serious organisation, and there would need to be an agreed alternative candidate prepared to take over. At present, the will is not there. Nor is it certain that changing a leader would be the answer to Labour's problems.
A picture paints a thousand words
There is no politician more Europhile than Nick Clegg, who speaks Dutch to his mother, Hermance van den Wall Bake, and yesterday held a joint press conference with Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands, at Admiralty House.
Yet it somehow escaped his attention that they were standing in front of a painting, below, depicting the Battle of Sole Bay, a naval engagement in 1672 which inaugurated the third Anglo-Dutch war.
Dogs are still our best friends
This year will mark the tercentenary of Alexander Pope's mock-heroic epic The Rape of the Lock, which, among other themes, took the stuffing out of the English sentimentality about their pets. "Not louder shrieks to pitying heaven are cast, when husbands, or when lapdogs breathe their last," he wrote.
In case you think that aspect of the national character has changed since 1712, you may like to know that after Molly, a three-year-old pug, was stolen from her north London home last Friday, the campaign for her safe return was backed by Jonathan Ross, the actress Joanna Page and Bianca Jagger.
Yesterday, it was announced that Molly had been reunited with her owner, Catriona Fox, 27. Several women tweeted that the news had made them so happy that they were in tears.
'Zionist' Gould falls out of favour
Craig Murray, the former ambassador to Uzbekistan, has been relentless in pursuing evidence that the UK could be heading for war with Iran. The latest revelation he helped to turn up, reported in the Independent on Sunday, is that Adam Werritty, unofficial adviser to the former Defence Secretary Liam Fox, was in and out of the Foreign Office even while Labour was in power. The official he met was Matthew Gould, above, then principal private secretary to the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, now UK ambassador to Israel.
If the name rings a bell, it is because of the outcry last month after the Labour MP Paul Flynn questioned Mr Gould's suitability for the job of representing the UK in Israel because "he has proclaimed himself to be a Zionist". Mr Flynn later apologised.
He was not the first to question where Mr Gould's loyalties lay. In November, Mr Murray's blog "Matthew Gould and the Plot to Attack Iran" cited a report in the Jerusalem Post, on 29 May 2011, that "British Ambassador Matthew Gould declared his commitment to Israel and the principles of Zionism".
But Mr Gould is no longer flavour of the month in Israel, after criticising Israeli construction in the Arab part of Jerusalem. "Although Mr Gould hotly denied an inherent anti-Israel bias," the Jerusalem Post commented, "his knee jerk eagerness to scold Israel powerfully indicates otherwise". And in The Hindu yesterday, Mr Miliband warned against the risk of war. If this is conspiracy, it is going awry.