As Ed Miliband rejects criticism of his leadership of the Labour party, Channel 4 News looks at how he is faring 16 months into the job.
But within just two months, his net score was in negative territory and it has remained there ever since. This month, it hit an all-time low, with 66 per cent convinced he is doing badly and 20 per cent well (a net score of minus 46).
When opposition leaders are struggling in the polls, the names of Iain Duncan Smith, William Hague, Neil Kinnock and Michael Foot come to the fore.
YouGov has looked at their ratings after 16 months as opposition leader and they show that Mr Miliband is behind Messrs Hague and Kinnock (neither of whom won an election), but ahead of Messrs Duncan Smith (who never contested an election) and Foot (who lost in 1983).
So should Labour ditch Mr Miliband? Would his elder brother David, who stood against him for the leadership, have a better chance of winning the next election?
The last time YouGov asked people to compare and contrast Ed and David was in June 2011. Asked if David was better or worse than Ed, 45 per cent said he was better and 6 per cent worse. But Ed was considered better than shadow cabinet colleagues Ed Balls, Harriet Harman and Yvette Cooper.
In my view, Miliband is unpopular largely because Labour remains unpopular. Peter Kellner, YouGov
YouGov president Peter Kellner does not believe a new leader would boost Labour’s fortunes, writing in his blog: “So, what should Labour MPs do now? Their wisest course is to reject the notion that Miliband is the sole source of their problems – or, in contrast, that he is their sole means of salvation.
“It’s a judgement call whether any other leader over the past 15 months would have navigated Labour to a larger lead over the Tories. In my view, Miliband is unpopular largely because Labour remains unpopular. Deciding either to keep or change leader is the easy bit: the real challenge is to change the party.”
Change is what Mr Miliband signalled in his speech on the economy on Tuesday, as his aides strongly denied that he was relaunching his leadership in the face of poor poll ratings and criticism of his performance by former adviser Lord Glasman.
Mr Miliband said Labour would have to change to govern in “tough times”, recognising that at the next election in 2015, “the Blair/Brown approach will not be enough”. Labour’s challenge in an age of austerity, he said, was to “rethink how we achieve fairness for Britain in a time when there is less money to spend”.
In an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the Labour leader said: “In good times people turn to left-wing parties, but in bad times they say ‘left-wing parties can’t necessarily make those tough decisions, we’ll turn to the right’. I am determined that we will buck that trend.”
In his speech, he said: “Each time New Labour won an election, it won at a time when business was prospering. Next time we come back to power, it will be different. We will be handed a deficit.”
His point about left and right-wing parties is historically dubious. Labour achieved a landslide victory in 1945 when Britain had bigger debts than today, and the Conservatives won with a big majority in 1987 when the economy was performing well.
But it is true that when New Labour won under Tony Blair’s leadership in 1997, 2001 and 2005, the economy was on the up. It is also the case that when it lost in 2010, Britain had been through a banking crisis and recession and was heavily in debt.
Laurence Janta-Lipinski, research manager at YouGov, told Channel 4 News: “In 2010, the economy was undoubtedly the biggest issue, but in previous elections it may not have been the most important issue. It’s slightly simplistic to say that if the economy is doing well the left will get in and if it’s doing badly the right will get in.
“During the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher was seen as a strong leader and there were lots of things that contributed to the Conservative party winning elections.”
It’s slightly simplistic to say that if the economy is doing well the left will get in and if it’s doing badly the right will get in. Laurence Janta-Lipinski
But Mr Janta-Lipinski said Mr Miliband was right to put his emphasis on the economy. “Ed Miliband is quite right focusing on the economy because that was the most important thing in 2010 and will be in 2015. But looking back historically, the economy moves in peaks and troughs. In the bad times, the economy is a much bigger issue.”
The problem for Labour is that it is not trusted on the economy. The party’s message that the coalition government is cutting too far and too fast is accepted by a majority of people, according to YouGov, but a majority also blames Labour for the fact Britain is having to make cuts. “The message is getting through, but the messenger isn’t resonating,” said Mr Janta-Lipinski.
Another Miliband message that has gained traction is his talk of the “squeezed middle” – families who are neither rich nor poor, but are struggling because of the cuts.
The Labour leader has not explained exactly who fits into this category. Is it families on £30,000 a year, £40,000, £50,000? The question has not been answered, presumably because to produce a figure would mean that many people who consider themselves to be part of the “squeezed middle” would then feel Mr Miliband was not talking about them.
Mr Janta-Lipinski believes it is “certainly a phrase people identify with”, adding: “I think Ed Miliband came up with something that really struck a chord.”
Tesco, Britain’s biggest supermarket chain, certainly likes it. In September 2011, while announcing price cuts, chief executive Richard Brasher said: “We have heard a lot about the squeezed middle. I believe the squeezed middle is probably 80 per cent of the country.” Music to Mr Miliband’s ears.