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Stephan Shakespeare

Stephan Shakespeare: The Ed Miliband question

Although Ed Miliband has had some successes (for example, I wrote here about his prize-winning phrase ‘the squeezed middle’), and he is undoubtedly a serious-minded and committed politician, it’s not unfair to say that he has failed to convince the electorate that he is a potential Prime Minister. A recent YouGov/ Sunday Times poll showed only 18% think he has provided an effective opposition. Only 19% think he has made it clear what he stands for. Just 19% think he would be up to the job of PM, compared to 35% for Cameron. And yet Labour as a party is consistently ahead of the Conservatives.

Given this, it is surprising he is still seen as safe in his current position as leader of the opposition. We are in very difficult times; the country needs a strong and effective counter-balance to perform at its best. Looking at it just from a Labour Party perspective, the case for a change of leader is compelling. As I’ve suggested before, it’s harder than people suppose for the Conservatives to win an absolute majority at the next election. Lock the LibDems into a weakening coalition and the Labour Party ensures its ongoingly increasing strength. Given the economic pain still ahead, Labour could even win the next election with the right leader.

We are told: Labour doesn’t oust its leaders. They don’t have the culture, the stomach, nor the mechanism, they say. Ed Miliband is safe until he is rejected by the people in a general election. Maybe true; but it is also true that our politics is more fluid than ever before, that change can happen faster than we expect, and that every day seems to make the leader question more insistent. Can we really imagine this semblance of political security will last? Can this extraordinary, weird vacuum really be maintained?

My 'Ed Miliband Question' is really three questions, and I look forward to your answers in the comments section: 1) Can he significantly improve his appeal? 2) If not, will there be a new Labour leader before the next election? 3) If there were to be a new leader, how might that change the political landscape?

Gordon Brown survived a very poorly organised attempt to oust him by James Purnell. But, as a senior Blairite told me last night, "Gordon had a single-minded toughness in the cause of his survival that I'm not sure Ed has. He hasn't been tested. If he was tested, he might fold." One could easily imagine Labour might learn from its mistakes.

And the Labour Party has a compelling alternative in the extremely competent and electorally appealing Cooper/Balls team. I can't imagine the current situation will survive for two years. In spite of the presiding wisdom that nothing will change, my own view is that either Ed will rise to the challenge, or he will be replaced.


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