Two bad polls (one from ComRes and one from YouGov) and a bad performance at Prime Ministers Questions and the constant niggly talk of ‘Labour leadership crisis’ is back. It’s about time we had an honest discussion within this party about why this is the case. People who want to hold on and hope for the best are, of course, well-intentioned, but when it comes to practical usefulness their approach is somewhat limited. Unity mongering when real differences and issues exist is not as beneficial as people insist it is. One of the many reasons for this is it treats the electorate as if they are stupid and a) can’t understand the fact that different people will naturally disagree from time-to-time (due to something as mundane as having different life experiences and therefore perspectives) and b) its insincere, on some level people are sensible enough to be aware of a and pretending otherwise is to be dangerously in that grey area between truth and falsehood.
Proponents of Ed Miliband and his leadership are as dangerously blinkered as some of his most zealotry opponents and frequently their fanaticism comes across as tragically comical. Anything that goes wrong must be the result of some hidden conspiracy either by the media or the Blairites. Furthermore, one wonders how the leadership is expected to grow and improve if it is not subjected to constant democratic scrutiny and yes, constant questioning. It does Ed Miliband himself absolutely no favours to be surrounded by people who will cheerlead his cause, come rain or shine.
So, let’s try and draw up an objective balance sheet. Ed, to his credit, has tried at times, to take both the inner-party and national narrative to different places. Places that are to the left of anywhere his brother would have taken them. However, these efforts have been stymied by the half-heartedness with which they are always attempted. Last weeks kerfuffle over Europe provided us with a textbook example of this half-heartedness. On the day that Cameron wielded the now infamous veto, I was left genuinely unsure of where exactly Ed Miliband stood on the whole Europe issue.
His mouth opened and words that sounded vaguely Europhile issued forth. However, this was quickly followed by briefings that Ed Miliband would have not have signed the treaty either. I doubt if there is anybody in the country, least of all Ed Miliband himself, who had the foggiest idea what Miliband would have actually done in Cameron’s place. Furthermore, his comments were always guarded and suitably ambiguous – just enough to suggest enthusiasm for the general idea of Europe but not enough to give a clear idea of well, anything.
This is exactly not what was needed in this situation. Europe needs a frank champion that is aware of and criticises its faults but, ultimately, in a scrap with Eurosceptics knows whose side they are on. It needs a champion that will hammer the sceptics but also be up-front about its own faults – in short, it needs somebody with a lot more gall than Ed Miliband. On the occasions he does show spirit and spark it doesn’t leave a lasting impression on the electorate because it doesn’t last long enough. Far from looking courageous and principled he ends up looking like an opportunist.
Lame attempts at triangulation criss-cross the Miliband and Labour narrative, undermining it at its very foundations. You can see it from right through his ‘responsibility riff’ to his stance on the strikes and the Occupy movement. It’s so easy to pick holes in its untrue. Voters, even if they are not aware of why they feel this, sense it and respond accordingly. Desperately trying to please all of the people all of the time, Ed ends up never quite pleasing anybody. If he cannot even consistently convince hard-core Labour supporters he is doing a good job as leader then how on earth do we realistically expect to persuade the rest of the country he should be Prime Minister?
This is why talk of ‘leadership crisis’ always hangs in the air around Labour. It’s never gone away since day 1 and it’s a constant - it is merely slightly more or slightly less prominent at any given time. The manner of his election did leave him vulnerable to it but a stronger leader with a clearer vision of where he wants to take the country would have dispelled that by now, especially in a country which is absolutely gasping for a strong opposition to a government whose own credibility has never been built on solid foundations.
Miliband simply doesn’t have the spine to bear the thought that people dislike him, nor does he understand that people respect somebody they feel is sincerely wrong infinitely more than they do somebody they do who they feel is being insincere and weak. His overweening desire is to have everybody like him and he thinks this is the way to electoral success. It isn’t. People will elect somebody who they despise but they feel is a stronger leader with a clear vision over somebody they kind-of like but they feel is weak and doesn’t have a clue every day of the week. This is a simple fact of political life which very few within the Labour Party seem to actually grasp. The Party is in a dangerous state of self-denial about its own position and that of its leader. If it doesn’t snap out of its torpor then it will sleep walk into an electoral disaster zone that will lead to a bad outcome for it, for Ed Miliband and indeed the entire country.