Labour, it is often said, is much less ruthless about ditching its leaders than the Conservatives.
If that is still the case now, then the “Bonfire Night Plot” against Ed Miliband will probably follow many other such assassination attempts and end not so much in failure but in collapse. Thus far, despite well-founded reports emanating from Westminster, there does not seem to be very much in the way of action by the plotters.
There is, clearly, discontent; how could there not be with Mr Miliband’s dismal ratings, with the prospective loss of the Scottish heartland, and Labour’s puny response to Ukip? And yet the balance of probability is that the fuss of replacing him, the lack of an obvious successor and the policy vacuum among Mr Miliband’s critics mean that he will make it to next May. Given the lottery of our electoral system, he might even get into No 10.
The form book suggests that the better the Labour leader, the more chance of him being deposed. The only leader to have been forcibly removed from office is the one who was best at winning general elections – Tony Blair in 2007. Michael Foot, Neil Kinnock and Gordon Brown, by contrast, were all the subject of coups that never materialised. They were allowed to stay in office, distracted by leadership “challenges” that intensified as each general election neared. Thus has Labour contrived to make its weaker leaders even less electorally successful, by adding the magic ingredient of disunity to an already unappetising mix.
One of the few assets Labour has possessed under Mr Miliband’s leadership has been unity, or the semblance of it. Whatever Ed Balls “really” thinks, whatever Alan Johnson would “really” like, or whatever ambitions Chuka Umunna may “really” harbour, the party has, until very recently, behaved with impeccable restraint. The ideological bloodbaths that Labour traditionally indulged in after a heavy defeat – after 1951, 1959, 1970 and 1979 – were avoided.
Having seen off his brother David for the leadership in 2010, and by eventually installing Ed Balls as shadow Chancellor, Mr Miliband managed to exude something of a geekish charm. Populist policy announcements, culminating in an attack on the energy utilities, endeared him to the public; the “cost of living crisis” struck a chord, even as the economy returned to growth. Bashing bankers and rail firms was good fun.
His critics say he is an old-fashioned Hampstead socialist intellectual, but as those initiatives showed, he does know how to frame a policy that appeals to the voters. He may not have the “common touch” that Harold Wilson or Tony Blair had, but he is no less able to see what people care about. He does have attractive policies, even though they can appear to be unconnected – political beads without a string.
Ironically, then, Mr Miliband’s critics are over-intellectualising the problems that confront them as a party and, in characteristic style, are blaming the leader. It is true that in public, he has at times seemed a walking disaster, whose unfavourable image is amplified by modern media. But that is a perception he and his party have seven months to change.
Mr Miliband was not the prime architect of Labour’s 2010 general election defeat; the party itself rejected all the other plausible candidates when it voted in a new leader later that year; and there is no one else who would now obviously deliver an immediate boost in the polls. Labour should stop self-harming and rally around Mr Miliband. He is the only leader they’ve got. We mean that in a nice way.Reuse content