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Five reasons why Labour can't be complacent

Tim Montgomerie

Screen shot 2011-03-20 at 14.37.30 I've used my Sunday Telegraph Q&A column to look at Labour's electoral position.

It's bright and sunny here in Salisbury so it might not have been a good day to deploy wintry metaphors but I argue that Labour's support may be as wide and narrow as the icy crust of a frozen lake:

"It’s economic winter in Britain and chilling conditions may last for some time. Growth is slow. Cuts are biting. Inflation is rising. Jobs are scarce. David Cameron and George Osborne are digging in for the long haul. They’re focused on getting re-elected in 2015 and keeping their coalition together in the meantime. Ed Miliband, meanwhile, is partying as if the General Election is tomorrow. Her Majesty’s Opposition is having fun, throwing snowballs at every Coalition minister. A year after it suffered one of its worst ever defeats, Labour is building a big lead in the opinion polls but this may be as wide and thin as the icy surface of a frozen lake. As economic spring arrives, it could crack beneath Ed Miliband’s feet."

I then go on to list the weaknesses that Labour should be addressing but isn't:

  • Economic reputation: "A brave successor to Gordon Brown would have acknowledged Labour’s wasteful spending during the boom years... By jumping on every anti-cuts bandwagon Ed Miliband is doing nothing to rebuild his party’s economic credibility." [Hazel Blears, on today's BBC1 Politics Show, appears to agree].
  • "Odd Ed": "The Conservative Party’s focus groups are finding that, in voters’ minds, the problem is more 'Odd Ed’ than 'Red Ed’. There is the Cain-and-Abel factor of assassinating his brother in the leadership contest. There is the fact he didn’t marry his girlfriend or register as his first child’s father. There are his staring eyes. One Tory insider notes that bad first impressions killed William Hague’s chances of beating Tony Blair; Ed Miliband’s first impressions are at least as bad."
  • Leadership rivalries: "Unlike Cameron – who faces no serious internal rival – Ed Miliband could be replaced by the hugely ambitious Ed Balls." Or Yvette Cooper. Or David Miliband. Voters hate disunited parties.
  • A lack of cut-through in aspirational southern England almost as bad as that faced by Hague, Howard and Cameron in the north.
  • No consistent strategy towards the Liberal Democrats: "Does [the Labour leader] want to lovebomb the Liberal Democrats so they become future allies or does he want to destroy them and steal all their voters? Ed Balls seems to want to do the latter and Ed Miliband isn’t really sure."

The extraordinary thing about Labour is the lack of real debate about party strategy. I blame a combination of good opinion polls and scars from the TB/GBs:

"The Labour Party should be in an anxious state, searching its soul to understand why Brown won only 29% of the vote last year – worse than John Major received in his landslide defeat of 1997. With the honourable exception of Labour’s former general secretary, Peter Watt, and a few Blairite columnists, the inquiry into defeat is remarkable for its absence. The quick recovery in the opinion polls has acted like a tranquilliser. Moreover, Labour is so scarred by the tensions between Brownites and Blairites that the party is supersensitive to the signs of any new splits. Whenever voices of concern are raised – such as last week by the modernising Shadow Defence Secretary, Jim Murphy – they are quickly silenced."

The silencing coming from the likes of Tom Watson.

Read the full column.