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35 and minus 23: two numbers that are on Labour’s collective mind today

By Peter Hoskin
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And the number of the day is 35. That, according to Dan Hodges and Rachel Sylvester (£), is that percentage of the vote that some members of Team Miliband are shooting for at the next election. Apparently, this “35 per cent strategy” involves securing the 29 per cent of voters who supported Labour at the last election, with a further 6 percentage points carved off the Lib Dems – and they think it should be enough for victory.

It all sounds pretty plausible, and not just because Hodges and Sylvester are a well-sourced pair. As the New Statesman’s George Eaton has pointed out, 35 per cent was enough to deliver victory to Labour in 2005 – and that was with the Lib Dems on 22 per cent, and without a split vote on the right. Looking at the current electoral landscape, it’s little wonder if some Labour advisers believe they can win it without dominating it.

But, even if that’s the case, it’s hardly a belief that Ed Miliband & Co. will want to ‘fess up to. The Labour people denying the story this morning will know that “One Nation” and “One-third Nation” aren’t exactly the same thing – and that they’ve got to prevent the latter from undermining the former.   

Besides, this whole comes at a particularly awkward time for EMr Miliband. Since Tony Blair’s article for the New Statesman last week, the simmering tensions between the current Labour leadership and the old order have boiled over into the open. David Blunkett has called for a true “One Nation” Labour Party that isn’t dictated by “politics built on grievance and the unhappiness of a resentful and selfish public sphere”. And Ed Miliband even had to issue a plea for unity during a meeting with his parliamentarians last night.

As for the question of why all this is happening now, I think the answer is fairly straightforward: Mr Miliband, at least in public, does seem to have retreated away from the broader politics he espoused several months ago. Whatever happened to Ed Balls’s claim that Labour would “give more details of its tough spending decisions”? To Labour’s overtures towards businesspeople? To the big Miliband ‘n’ Blair pair-up? Part of it is the fact that benefits have been the topic of 2013 in Westminster, part of it is the Labour leader’s own beliefs – but some Labour people will be worried that nothing is likely to change.

Oh, and there could be another reason too, and it comes in the form of another number. In today’s ICM poll for the Guardian, Ed Miliband’s personal approval rating is at a new low of 23 per cent. The Labour leader may have hoped for an easier time after the departure of his brother, but he hasn’t got it yet.