Miliband running out of time to beat the odds of an election win

Labour figures say leader must ‘raise his game’ and define what he stands for as poll reveals his personal rating is falling

Time is running out for Ed Miliband to turn around his personal ratings if Labour is to win the next general election, according to the latest "poll of polls" for The Independent.

Opposition leaders' net satisfaction: click here to download graphic (28Kb)

After nine months as the Labour leader, Mr Miliband is more unpopular than Iain Duncan Smith was at the same stage of his leadership of the Conservative Party in 2002. Mr Duncan Smith was ousted by his party the following year, before he got the chance to fight a general election.

Only 34 per cent of people are satisfied with the way Mr Miliband is doing his job, while 48 per cent of them are dissatisfied. His net rating of minus 14 points is worse than Mr Duncan Smith's overall rating of minus 9 points in June 2002.

John Curtice, a Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University who compiled the "poll of polls", found that Mr Miliband's personal ratings had dropped to a new low among all four polling companies included in his study: ComRes, Ipsos MORI, ICM and YouGov.

"Mr Miliband will have to overturn previous patterns of polling history if he is eventually to make it into Downing Street," he said. "Since 1979 all previous opposition leaders with unambiguously negative poll ratings at this stage in their leadership have eventually sunk without trace."

Mr Miliband's ratings have declined in recent months; in April his net-satisfaction rating was 1 point. He is doing better than three other recent opposition leaders nine months into their tenure – Michael Howard (minus 16 points), William Hague (minus 19 points) and Michael Foot (minus 26 points) – but all three of them lost the next general election.

Mr Miliband is more popular than Nick Clegg, whose net-satisfaction rating is minus 26 points. Both trail David Cameron, who is on minus 2 points.

A weighted average of the surveys by the four pollsters in June shows that the Conservatives have narrowed Labour's lead from 4 to 3 points in the past month and are now on their highest rating this year. Labour is on 40 per cent (unchanged since May), the Tories on 37 per cent (up one point), the Liberal Democrats on 11 per cent (no change) and other parties on 12 per cent (down one point).

Professor Curtice said: "Although Labour can now point to eight consecutive months of poll leads, the party must be disappointed if not indeed concerned that it is not making much progress at eating away at Conservative support. Whatever misgivings people have about the Coalition, Labour is still struggling to present people with what they consider to be a viable alternative."

He noted that the Liberal Democrats have yet to reap any benefit in the polls from their decision to fight their corner inside the Coalition more robustly to differentiate themselves from the Tories. Mr Miliband's ratings are bound to fuel Labour's internal debate over his leadership. There is no sign of any plots to remove him and he is expected to lead the party into the next election.

But some senior Labour figures believe privately that, in the words of one frontbencher yesterday, "he needs to raise his game". Others say he has to give the public a clearer definition of what Labour stands for.

What's going wrong, and how can he turn things around?

Lord Falconer, Labour Peer

The most difficult landscape for an opposition leader is being new in the aftermath of a general election defeat. Ed Miliband is setting out a decisive picture of the UK he wants to see – where the things we do together as a nation are not so ruined by the unnecessarily savage cuts that it ruins all of our futures. He needs to stick with them – not for himself but for his country, which so needs the alternative he is articulating.

Mehdi Hasan, Co-author of "Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader"

He needs to throw out the politician's rule book and be authentic – and avoid soundbites and triangulation. Ed has to start speaking human. And he should sack any adviser who tells him to be anything other than himself.

Gavin Hayes, General Secretary of the social-democratic pressure group, Compass

It's always substance not style that matters. He must adapt bold, clear and radical policies that send a strong message and very clearly communicate to the electorate exactly what the Labour Party stands for. What should the party stand for? Is must start taking more risks.

Deborah Mattinson, Director of market research agency, BritainThinks

Ed's problem remains his anonymity. He must connect positively with people fast before the negative media narrative really cuts through. Ed has talked a lot about avoiding "husky hugging" stunts, but people need visual prompts.

Will Straw, Director for Strategic Development at the Institute for Public Policy Research

Above all other priorities, Labour must restore its economic credibility – the number one issue for voters – and continue to reform the party so that it once again becomes the backbone of local communities

John McDonnell, Labour MP for Hayes and Hartington

Fear of putting a foot wrong and upsetting the Daily Mail is making Ed Miliband look weak and directionless. It's time to come out loudly and clearly on the side of ordinary people.