Ed Miliband just cannot get it right. Ten days ago he looked purposeful, announcing his proposed changes to shadow cabinet elections and giving a strong performance at Prime Minister’s Questions.
But in the last week the Leader of the Opposition has looked unsure, failing to reflect the feeling in his base that a Labour leader should be supporting public sector workers.
Last Thursday, in what was promised to be the first strike of many, public sector workers from the civil service and teaching unions took to the streets to protest changes to their pensions.
Miliband chose to come out against the strikes, arguing that the unions should persist with the ongoing negotiations, step back from “the rhetoric” and avoid creating disruption to “hard-working taxpayers”.
During Questions the day before the strikes, having taken a position against them, Miliband concentrated on NHS reforms. In doing so he gave David Cameron a golden opportunity to attack on the industrial action and avoid detailed interrogation of his health proposals.
If Ed Miliband is to secure his position as leader with strong backing from his party and make an impression on the electorate, he cannot go on like this.
It is said that during the Labour leadership election, David Miliband was so sure that he would secure the leadership, he and his team had already mapped out his first hundred days in charge, including a calendar of policy messages.
By contrast Ed Miliband was not prepared. His plan was not clear and, as a consequence, he has struggled throughout the last nine months to establish his leadership, personality and vision.
As if to cement the view that the younger Miliband was not prepared for office, he immediately announced a full policy review and repeated publicly that the party should not expect to have a clear set of policies after such a serious defeat in the general election.
This led the public to think that he didn’t have any policies. Even now, members of his own party can’t be sure what he stands for. It hasn’t helped that having won the leadership with the support of the trade union vote, Miliband has been desperate not to be seen as the unions’ man and this has been his problem in the last ten days.
Once the teaching and civil service unions voted to strike at the end of June, Miliband was immediately under pressure to take a position. Given his trenchant criticism of the government’s cuts and restructuring of public services, he was expected to support the action. Instead, Miliband triangulated horribly - criticising the government but at the same time pleading with public sector workers not to inconvenience ‘the public’ by striking.
This uncomfortable position was only magnified at the end of last week as footage from an interview was uploaded to YouTube. In the exchanges, a journalist asks a series of questions about the strikes but Miliband answers each one with the same response. The phrasing is almost identical and makes Miliband seem unwilling to have his position challenged and only comfortable parroting an agreed line.
Ed Miliband is in danger. He is publicly looking like a man without a plan and he has failed to win the confidence of the parliamentary party. Despite outward voices of support, the front and back benches are rumbling; they will want to see a strong show during the party conference speech.
Meanwhile the public seems bemused by Miliband, they don’t who know he is and they are certainly not clear what he stands for. And surely the most worrying part of all of is the lack of damage Miliband has done to the Conservative party. Despite a government approval rating in the minus twenties, the party poll ratings have held quite steady and it is the Liberal Democrats who are suffering most.
Miliband needs to find his voice and his backbone if he is to take on the government and win over his party and the public.
Underprepared and Unsupported
Ed Miliband is losing grasp on his party as the opportunity to defeat Cameron gets slimmer
by Lucy Sweetman (05 July 2011)