Andrew Grice: Miliband needs to find a voice fast if he wants to be heard

Inside Westminster

Share
Related Topics

When Ed Miliband pronounced New Labour "dead" on winning the party leadership last September, he was trying to signal a new style of politics rather talking about the substance of policy.

He was also sending a message that, under his management, Labour would finally move on from the debilitating Blair-Brown rivalry which scarred Tony Blair's 13 years as leader.

As he struggles to establish himself in the public's eyes, Mr Miliband needed yesterday's revelations about an alleged plot by Brownites to oust Mr Blair after the 2005 general election like a hole in the head.

So far, the leaked private papers belonging to the shadow chancellor Ed Balls contain no "smoking gun" about the involvement of Mr Miliband or Mr Balls in the efforts to prise Labour's most electorally successful leader out of Downing Street. And the "plot" was hardly secret since Mr Blair had declared before the 2005 election that it would be his last as Labour leader.

The manoeuvring by the Brown camp was designed to get him out as soon as possible. Mr Blair, who felt at his boldest and most decisive in his curtailed third term as his time ran out, wanted to hang on until 2008 to complete as many domestic reforms as possible.

In fact, Mr Brown had been nagging him to stand down since soon after the 2001 election ("When are you going to fuck off?", he would ask), believing this was part of their 1994 pact under which Mr Blair became the modernisers' leadership candidate.

By 2005, the then-Chancellor was getting desperate and feared that, the longer Mr Blair clung on, the less chance Mr Brown would have of making his mark as prime minister and winning the following election.

Mr Miliband's allies may describe the papers as "ancient history" but they are not that ancient. Many voters are not listening to Labour. The leaked documents may only reinforce the impression of a party more interested in its internal machinations and personal rivalries than the country's future. That may be their real significance. "It's one step forward, one step back for us at the moment," one shadow cabinet member groaned yesterday.

Even before yesterday's leak, Mr Miliband was finding it hard to be heard. Labour looks more like a third party – a feeling the Liberal Democrats know well – rather than an alternative government. Some former ministers are finding the slog of opposition hard. You have to shout loud to be heard. On Tuesday, Mr Miliband had hoped to make waves by calling a press conference at which he offered all-party talks on the important issue of social care. His inner circle spent many hours planning the initiative. Yet his big announcement became a footnote to David Cameron's speech about the Government's NHS reforms.

On the face of it, the inclusion of the Liberal Democrats in the Coalition should make it easier for Labour to be the alternative voice to the Government. True, it has scooped up 70,000 new members since last year's election and added about 10 points in the opinion polls as left-of-centre voters who feel betrayed desert the Liberal Democrats.

But sensible Labour folk are worried about what they describe as the party's "mediocre" performance in the south of England in last month's council elections. And they grumble that Labour's unexpected disaster in the Scottish Parliament elections shows the dangers of relying on an opinion poll lead holding firm and assuming Lib Dem defectors will all come over to Labour.

"We need to appeal to Tory supporters" is a cry you hear a lot from Blairites who moan privately about Mr Miliband. They are not plotting against him and do not want to undermine him, not least because a return to the internecine war of the Blair-Brown era can only make it even harder for Labour to win in 2015.

But Mr Miliband is determined to do things his way and his own time. That does not mean waiting until the 2015 election. He has a plan and is not going to be pushed off it. He is not relying on former Lib Dem supporters to carry him to power. He is confident we will know much more about his project by the time he marks a year as leader at this autumn's Labour conference.

The Labour leader is not interested in spin, photocalls and gimmicks. He intends to convince voters that his party is changing fundamentally. He is not ruffled by unflattering comparisons with the early months of the Blair and Cameron leaderships.

Mr Blair dumped Labour's Clause IV commitment to public ownership. Mr Cameron hugged a husky in the Arctic. "Cameron may have followed the Blair playbook, but he didn't win the election," one Miliband ally insisted. "The world has moved on. People want substance, not images."

Yet Mr Miliband's internal critics worry that voters form a judgement about party leaders quickly, and that first impressions are hard to shift. If people can't soon imagine him passing the "No 10 doorstep test", they may never do so. "Ed knows what he needs to do," one senior Labour figure said. "It's time he got on with it."



React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

In Sickness and in Health: 'I'm really happy to be alive and to see Rebecca'

Rebecca Armstrong
Supporters in favour of same-sex marriage pose for a photograph as thousands gather in Dublin Castle  

The lessons we can learn from Ireland's gay marriage referendum

Stefano Hatfield
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern