Matthew Norman: He's miles ahead in polls. Is it time we took Ed Miliband seriously?

The ritual disclaimer that Cameron is too clever to be underestimated begins to look outmoded

Related Topics

Painful though it is to pose the question with your ironic disdain audible as I type it, posed nonetheless must it be. Has the moment come seriously to consider the prospect that Ed Miliband will be our next Prime Minister? I know, I know. This question, which I along with everyone else have answered in the negative before, strikes you as a makeshift application to be sectioned. Had Edmund Blackadder asked it in lieu of sticking two pencils up his nose and wearing his knickers as a hat, even General Melchett would have seen him cosily ensconced in a psychiatric ward by the time Baldrick, Percy and Captain Darling went over the top.

The received wisdom on the matter demands the briefest reiteration. Forget the calamity in Bradford West, it contends. The younger of Labour's fraternal droids is such a nerdy, drippy, Ed-enoidal no-hoper that he couldn't lead the Free Mansions And Lamborghinis For All Party to victory in Soweto against the Necklacing Alliance fronted by Eugene Terre'Blanche's ghost.And yet behold, here we find the loser of losers sitting on a double-digit advantage in one new poll, and up by nine per cent in another. What can snapshots of voting intentions taken years ahead of the vote possibly tell us, you may ask, about Little Ed's ability to win a general election? Absolutely nothing. Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock consistently had larger leads over Mrs Thatcher, and were routed.

Yet that strikes me as the wrong question at this monumentally dismal and apathetic political moment, the right one being this. What do these vignettes of public mood tell us about his ability to lose a general election less disastrously than the enemy? Could he become Prime Minister by default, much like the incumbent, simply by being slightly less off-putting a presence than his rival? Might his optimal strategy be to accept his own presentational difficulties and the fearsome lack of interest in national politics by keeping his trap shut, and leaving the Government to continue its super slo-mo implosion?

After two years of giving the Coalition all the benefit of every doubt, the punters appear finally to be exhausting their stores of indulgence. Their tax-free charitable donations are running out, and if these polls could be converted into one sound, it might be the thud of a gigantic penny dropping (in this case, on to David Cameron's cunningly concealed bald spot). The sequence of blunders over which the PM has latterly presided – most arising from the Budget, but with the cobblers about electronic surveillance lending the incompetence impressive range – has been startling, and the speed of his U-turns dizzying. Even when a policy is broadly popular and correct – what gives anyone the right to spend their taxes as they choose? – he is so scrambled by the cumulative post-Budget contempt that he pirouettes in a flash.

The ritual disclaimer that Mr Cameron is too clever, versatile and polished to be underestimated begins to look outmoded. Much of the smooth public relations operative gloss remains. But enough has been stripped away to allow a peek behind the veneer, and more and more there seems less and less to him than originally met the eye. The football chant that perhaps captures the nascent public feeling is the one reserved for the manager of a relegation-threatened side after a particularly obtuse substitution: you don't know what you're doing.

If it is still too early to lampoon Mr Cameron as Steve McClaren, bemusedly wandering up and down the Downing Street dugout beneath his brolly, there is no sign whatever of the political and economic weather improving. The most alarming polling figure published this week was not the broad one about voting intentions, the Labour lead being as soft and biodegradable as the squidgiest pasty. It wasn't even YouGov's finding that Ukip has more support than the Liberal Democrats, though this represents a graver electoral threat to Mr Cameron than to Nick Clegg. It is that Ed Balls is now as well trusted to run the economy as George Osborne. God have mercy on the Tories if Mr Miliband's most lethal liability is on his way to establishing a lead over a Chancellor seen a few weeks ago as among Mr Cameron's greatest assets.

Making long-range psephological predictions is an imbecile's game, and the only one worth risking today is that, with core supporters of all three main parties as disaffected as they have ever been, turnout at the next election will be heartbreakingly low. The only vaguely reliable guide to the outcome, as always, is professional betting money, and the current favourite on Betfair is no majority for anyone.

Amid all this opacity, one thing is increasingly clear, even if the Poncetariat of pundits to which I have the honour of belonging refuses to acknowledge it. For all the geeky looks and whininess of tone, Ed Miliband is a cannier and more able Opposition leader than the lazy caricature as feckless nebbish allows. Snort with derision by all means. But if he keeps fairly schtum and invisible, and leaves this government to do his work for him, in this political Bizarro World where victory means losing marginally less horribly than the other guy, that might just about be enough.

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Errors & Omissions: Whoever and whatever Arthur was, he wasn’t Scottish

Guy Keleny
Labour's Jeremy Corbyn arrives to take part in a Labour party leadership final debate, at the Sage in Gateshead, England, Thursday, Sept. 3  

Jeremy Corbyn is here to stay and the Labour Party is never going to look the same again

Andrew Grice
The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea