Ed Miliband faces the fight of his political life

The taint of trade union infiltration could be fatal to Labour’s election hopes


Prime Minister’s Questions – often a boisterous affair – was downright rowdy this week.

The usual, rather testy David Cameron, forever on the brink of losing his rag, was replaced by a new version so brimming with élan it bordered on triumphalism. The explanation? Thanks to accusations that Unite has been throwing its weight around in the Labour Party, he could lambast the Opposition as “in the pay of the unions” at every possible juncture. And so he did, to roars of approval from his back benches.

In fairness, Ed Miliband fought hard, questioning the moral authority of a Prime Minister whose copybook is blotted by “dinners for donors”, “a tax cut for his Christmas card list” and, last but not least, hiring Andy Coulson, the disgraced former tabloid editor now on trial for phone hacking. It was a valiant effort. But the Labour leader never really stood a chance.

One lacklustre week in the Punch-and-Judy palaver of PMQs is neither here nor there, of course. But Mr Miliband’s travails are no simple matter of a performance. Nor is the Coalition’s new-found assurance restricted to Mr Cameron. Only last week, the Chancellor delivered a similarly sprightly performance, despite the fact that his Spending Review would not have been necessary had all gone to plan. Boosted by Labour’s acceptance of his fiscal logic and an economic wind set momentarily fair, George Osborne had quite a bounce.

This week, the economic clouds have lifted further. Statistical updates have revised away the double-dip and confidence appears to be returning to services, manufacturing and construction. It would be foolish to conclude that our troubles are over. But, in the short term at least, Labour’s case is ever harder to make.

Mr Miliband’s task was never an easy one. To rehabilitate a party after 13 years of government is always tricky; economic crisis made it more so. But there is also a wider issue here. In the post-2008 world of straitened public spending, where the long-term implications of ageing populations and global competition can no longer be hidden by expectations of continuous growth, the centre-left is struggling – not just in Britain but across much of Europe – to find a message that makes sense. For all that Mr Miliband is pilloried for his lack of charisma, circumstances are also to blame for Labour’s lack of definition.

There is an election to win, however; and the central challenge is to prove the party’s fiscal credentials to a sceptical electorate that has largely accepted the need for austerity. Inching closer to the Coalition’s plans was an unavoidable step. But there is further to go to restore trust, and a power-grab by the unions – accused of manipulating Labour selection procedures and bankrolling members – will not help. Is it any wonder that Mr Cameron is so gleeful, when he takes to the podium armed with a Unite strategy complaining “we give millions of pounds... and we get nothing back”, and calling for “a firmly class-based election”? With friends like these, Labour hardly needs enemies.

For Mr Miliband himself the danger is more potent still. Tagged “Red Ed” after a fratricidal leadership win reliant on union support, he has fought since to prove himself his own man. The Prime Minister’s bravura performance is just a taste of what is to come if the questions raised by the alleged shenanigans in Falkirk are not swiftly laid to rest. That means going public with the review of selection processes now under way. It also means new procedures, where necessary, to rid Labour of the taint of infiltration. From the bluster so far, the unions are all set for a fight. If either Mr Miliband or his party are to have a hope in 2015, it is one that the Labour leader needs to win.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Piper Ryan Randall leads a pro-Scottish independence rally in the suburbs of Edinburgh  

i Editor's Letter: Britain survives, but change is afoot

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Some believe that David Cameron is to blame for allowing Alex Salmond a referendum  

Scottish referendum: So how about the English now being given a chance to split from England?

Mark Steel
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam