31 Dec 2014

2014 was a year to forget for Ed Miliband – now it’s win or bust

Right. You’ve had the worst year of any leading UK politician since Harold Godwinson lined his troops up on the wrong hill at Hastings – so what better way to kick off 2015 than with a message about “new beginnings”?

That must have been the thinking behind Ed Miliband’s New Year message, posted on YouTube.

He’s posed in an open-necked shirt, but just in case that looks too interesting, there is a normcore round-necked jumper to complete the “boring young dad” look.

There is a Christmas tree – with presents still under it: maybe one of them was for Tony Blair and he didn’t turn up?

The core of the message is clear: Labour will raise wages, do something for young people, “set fair rules for immigration” and “rescue the NHS”.

And to those fine-tuned to Labourology, Miliband‘s words signalled a clear core vote strategy: the country will be run “in a different way, with a different idea, putting working people first”.

Nothing about the “squeezed middle” or “hard-working families”. Short of actually using the world “class” Miliband came as close as any Labour leader since Callaghan to actually meaning it.

The timing then, of Tony Blair’s interview with the Economist, looks unfortunate. Blair told the Economist it was likely Labour would lose the 2015 election because it was fighting as a traditional left-wing party against a traditional right-wing one, and that is usually the outcome.

Today Blair’s office has backtracked, saying he was “misinterpreted” and expects Labour to win in 2015.


But the whole episode goes to the heart of what Labour is struggling with. Let’s just enumerate the Miliband issues first:

– He forgot to mention immigration and the deficit in his conference speech

– He can’t eat a bacon sandwich

– He got photographed giving a beggar money on the street and looking like he didn’t want to do it

– He posed with the Sun newspaper then had to backtrack and apologise after a backlash on Merseyside over the paper’s role in the Hillsborough tragedy

– He sunk massive personal capital into the No campaign in Scotland, resulting in poll predictions of a wipeout for Labour by the SNP

– He had to sack close ally Emily Thornberry after her injudicious tweet about white vans and St George Crosses on election day in Rochester

Numerous Labour insiders believe he cannot connect with either the core voters he’s trying to mobilise, nor with the middle-class swing voters Labour traditionally needs to reach to win, and is possibly the worst person of all to try and lead a fightback against the votes labour is haemorrhaging to Ukip.

But the party’s problems go deeper than that. Beneath the surface, Labour is a punch-up waiting to happen. The party’s MPs in the urban north of England, where Labour’s core support lies, know their constituents cannot stand another five years of combined austerity and uncontrolled migration.

The unions – faced with a significant disenfranchisement under Miliband’s plans post-Falkirk – are not minded to go on funding a party committed to austerity.

Meanwhile, the Blairite wing of the party is on a quiet offensive against Miliband. Jim Murphy’s victory in Scotland, and Blair’s “nudge” in the Economist are just two symptoms of this.

On top of this though, the coalition is now split over the future scale of austerity, Miliband knows it remains a toxic issue for Labour.

So for Labour, 2015 is a win-or-bust year.

If the party wins, it looks like it will be narrowly and very likely with the SNP holding the balance of power. Then Labour would have to choose between a more radical autonomy plan for Scotland or getting rid of Trident as the price for SNP support.

If you think of the scale of cuts Labour has implicitly signed up to, there is no way the SNP is going to taint itself with voting for the first Ed Balls budget without extracting a major exemptions for Scotland.

Paddy Power currently has it on 4/1 for there two be two elections in 2015 – that is, for neither Labour nor the Tories to be able to form a coalition.

But if Labour loses, the forces of fragmentation beneath the surface are large: there is not exactly a plan, but more like an implicit understanding that the left and the Blairites will combine to get rid of Ed Milband if Labour fails to become the largest party.

Think a figure like Jon Cruddas or Tom Watson as deputy leader, with an as-yet-unspecified Progress frontbencher as leader.

The unions meanwhile, particularly Unite, are watching developments in Spain and Greece carefully: there the main socialist parties have been eviscerated by support for austerity and are now being replaced by young, trendy, left-wing parties whose leaders can not only eat street food but look cool doing so.

Though there is no British Podemos – yet – senior frontbenchers are already worried about Labour’s middle class and youth vote bleeding away to the Greens in two or three key constituencies.

Miliband’s only secret weapon is Ukip. It may look like Nigel Farage is a threat to Labour in some of its heartlands, but the electoral logic still looks more like Ukip will seriously damage the Conservatives in key constituencies.

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10 reader comments

  1. Andrew Boyle says:

    I actually think this is rather self-serving; the world as Paul would like it to be, rather than the world as it is likely to be.

  2. Patrick says:

    I could go with Tom Watson in a leadership role. As MP’s go – he’s quite cool! Be it Lego or Music – he tweets like a human being and not an automaton!

  3. DavidL says:

    “- He sunk massive personal capital into the No campaign in Scotland, resulting in poll predictions of a wipeout for Labour by the SNP”

    If only this was true. The reality is that Ed seemed to find endless things to talk about and do other than campaigning in Scotland for the preservation of the country he wants to lead. Cameron and Osborne, yes Osborne for goodness sake, both did more and had more impact on the referendum campaign than Ed.

    A lot of his current troubles come from this. His party are not persuaded he can campaign or deal with voters. SLAB felt betrayed and totally scunnered of him. He just looked totally ineffectual. If he had done even half of what Jim Murphy did he would not be in this position.

  4. Alan says:

    The article assumes it’s readership actually gives a damn.

  5. Noah Wilson says:

    Paul Mason might be a heavy weight journalist but why is the Economics editor writing Political blogs. He seems to be given free range from war reporter to media… What’s going on C4?

  6. david says:

    Spot on article Paul, as usual.

    Apart from his sheer lack of charisma, Miliband has no openly radical left policies to appeal to any disillusioned voters. E.g. banging on about the ‘cost of living’ crisis when inflation is 1% is just plain idiotic – he must know the problem is really the 1% screwing the wages of the 99%. Not inflation.

    Even if he did promote left policies AND had charisma (like undeniably his brother did) he (and his brother) is still much too middle class; unfortunately the Labour Party has no Harry Perkins. The closest we got is John McDonnell but the union Unite scuppered his chance when it stitched up Brown to become leader without election. That denied the only would be candidate McDonnell the chance to become known.

  7. Bill Wells says:

    So that was his failings in 2014 so now it is New Year can Paul Mason, for whom I have a high regard, list the achievements of Ed Miliband not forgetting becoming leader after a shattering defeat of New Labour and keeping Labour united so still in the game to win next May despite a very hostile media hell bent on destroying him.

  8. Dr Ew says:

    Always stimulating to read Paul Mason’s analysis of political and economic currents. This one appears to attempt to find something – anything – positive to say about Miliband’s leadership but inevitably fails and so joins in with the popular craze of Ed-banging.

    Fair enough, except the problem is not the leader but Labour itself. Its economics are neo-liberal and even its social policies increasingly right of centre – Ed-banging to the anti-immigration, pro-austerity, persecute the poor beat. In other words, Labour struggles to define itself as left-of-centre never mind socialist and with hindsight New Labour can be seen for what it was: A takeover by the military-industrial-corporate-financial complex. The two-party system is broken because Labour and Conservative became – to paraphrase Gore Vidal – two wings of the same party

    Labour sold its soul to Blair and the price was Clause 4. The subsequent de facto purge of socialists and socialist ideas means there is no base to work from; the once stalwart Scottish Labour could comfortably vote for an unreconstructed Blairite like Murphy (egg-stained hero of the referendum barricades) because there is no principle, no value, no shibboleth they will not sacrifice in pursuit of power. Labour is a husk of a party, no longer even a credible vehicle for the venal personal vanities of its would-be leaders.

    This year sees the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, which tells us that no-one, not even the monarch, is above the law. Yet I guarantee not one of the parties seriously competing for power – not even the new left emergent through the SNP and the Greens – will even mention much less attempt to prosecute any of the myriad of bankers who have brazenly and criminally defrauded people, companies and the country of billions since the last election alone (forget 2008).

    So what does that tell us about our democracy? I think we all know the answer. And it’s not Ed Miliband.

  9. John says:

    @ Andrew Boyle – a totally nonsensical ‘comment’. 27 words that say nothing, and offer nothing to the debate. And your Big Idea is…?

    @ Patrick – I’d fully agree with that. A very personable guy that voters could connect with – and he’s not been afraid to stand up and be counted on a variety of issues over the last couple of years or so. If it did go to a second election (pity it couldn’t be done before April / May’s) – Tom Watson as leader, and Simon Danczuk as a possible Deputy. And get shut of Ed Balls-up.

  10. Kate Axford says:

    I think you,re romanticising SNP socialism. They had 2 objectives in the election; to get rid of Tories and to gain independence by the back door. Their manifesto in terms of economics and logic would make Santa Claus laugh and their record while they had significant control of the public sector is seriously questionable. They have had the opportunity to move resources to poorer areas ; it,s not happened . They are experiencing problems with school places and a decline in standards and their universities are in trouble because of a lack of funding . The list could go on and not all of it can be blamed on lack of funding. Murphy and co if anything were too ” gentle” on the Holyrood elite if anything.
    A left wing party cannot be seperatist . It,s a paradox . If they have issues with Labour ,they like the rest of us find a way to get the kind of party they want. If we could learn anything from the Tories,it,s that when things get difficult they close ranks . Squabble inside as much as you like but get into Power first or you,re crying in the wasteland.

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