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

Share
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

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

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: A widow’s tale with an unexpected twist

John Rentoul
 

For all his faults, Russell Brand is utterly sincere, something politicians should emulate

Janet Street-Porter
The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss