The polling that explains why Ed Miliband is right to lead on Hunt

by Atul Hatwal

What’s the best attack on the Tories? For Ed Miliband, the fate of Jeremy Hunt has been the priority, apparently at the expense of highlighting the return of recession.

Commentators from all sides of the left have been critical: most voters already think all politicians are far too close to the media barons. The Hunt affair only confirms this and expending valuable political time on the intricacies of the Ministerial code instead of hammering home Tory failure on the recession totally misses the point.

It’s an understandable view. But wrong.

Jeremy Hunt is small fry. This issue is actually about leadership, David Cameron’s and Ed Miliband’s.

If the Labour leader has a single task to achieve before the next election, he must to narrow the gap with David Cameron on who the voters prefer as prime minister.

To understand the scale of challenge, it’s worth reflecting on a salutary fact: at the last general election on May 3rd, YouGov surveyed people on their preference for prime minister. Gordon Brown was the choice of 26% with David Cameron on 32%. In the nineteen months of his leadership, across 40 polls, Ed Milband has never bettered Gordon Brown’s dismal benchmark.

Huntgate gives Miliband an opportunity to help change the way that the public looks at him, and David Cameron.

Cameron has made clear he wants to hang on to Hunt. He’s obfuscated and dodged on taking action. But his judgement is poor and Hunt is a dead man walking. The weight of evidence clearly highlights how Hunt broke the Ministerial code and even Tories like Bernard Jenkin, chair of the Public Accounts Select Committee have called for a referral to the regulator.

By majoring on this, Ed Miliband has turned this issue into a personal contest of wills with the prime minister. He has purposefully led, forcing the pace while Cameron is responding with ever evolving positions. Number 10’s initial reaction that Leveson would deal with any potential breach of the Ministerial code demonstrates the extent to which they have been rolled and are now making it up as they go along.

That Number 10 could issue this line without having checked with Leveson himself beggar’s belief. When Leveson entirely predictably said ‘not my problem mate’, Cameron’s defence was left in tatters.

If and when Hunt goes, the story will shift from Hunt to the prime minister. It will be about his lack of judgement and weakness in not being able to hold onto his ministers. Ed Miliband will be seen to have had the better judgement, and most importantly, imposed his will on David Cameron.

Voters can forgive many things in a prime minister, but weakness is not one of them.

The last time YouGov asked the question on peoples’ preference for rime minister in mid-April, David Cameron still had a substantial lead over Ed Miliband, 31% to 22%.

But the lead was the narrowest it’s been, David Cameron’s own rating was amongst the lowest to date and this was before the Hunt affair.

Ed Miliband has closed to within 9 points before. The previous occasion was at the height of the initial revelations on hacking in July last year. David Cameron recovered within a couple of months and by January this year had stretched his lead to 24 points, 41% to 17%.

But unlike with hacking, economic circumstances are darker and there is a clear and definitive point of decision. Either Hunt stays or goes. No enquiry or commission to give Cameron a get out and the issue will be squarely about his judgement.

When YouGov ask the question again, if Hunt has gone, there should be a clear impact and Miliband will deserve his plaudits.

Atul Hatwal is associate editor at Uncut

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7 Responses to “The polling that explains why Ed Miliband is right to lead on Hunt”

  1. swatantra says:

    Of course the real villan of the piece is Cable. for blatantly coming out with an ani NI stance, which meant he was relieved of his respnsibilties, when he should have been relieved of his Cabinet job., because he knew what the job description entailed. And Dave eade a fatal error in passing it on to the Sec for Media Sport Culture, because it was a Media issue, when he knew that he had history of snuggling up to NI. The decision shoud have been delegated to an unknown Minister further down the chain of command.
    Ed is gradually eroding Dave’s position and Dave is getting pretty annoyed as was shown in his PMQs last week when he had a go at Shabana with the comment to her question:’Well read ….. ‘. Its the typical public schoolboy arrogance showing through, yet again. And that will be his ultimate downfall.

  2. Anon E Mouse says:

    And what is it that Miliband has actually done here?

    This is hardly the dodgy dossier or the Saudi arms deal. Tony Blair is one of Murdoch’s children’s godparents FFS.

    Labour can sit back and be complacent believing these types of postings and lose the next election or the party members can get a grip and reclaim the party from the rich kids like the leader or deputy leader, get rid of the Polly Toynbee’s with their villa’s in Italy and have a political party that truly represents the workers in this country.

    It is time to get real because a Tory landslide could be on the cards if Labour continue to drift policy free the way they are….

  3. Robin Thorpe says:

    I can see the point that Atul is trying to make, however I agree more with the comment by Anon E Mouse. Labour needs to be certain about what it represents and what it offers. Ed Milliband may be trying to prove he is a stronger and more effective leader but I think that ultimately the Labour Party will regret electing a leader who, over 18 months into his leadership, gets mistaken for his brother.

  4. Rob Marchant says:

    Great piece, Atul. There’s one other reason: as John Rentoul points out, the accuracy of the GDP figures, and the direction of their historical bias, is such that we may not even be back in recession:

  5. BenM says:

    @Rob Marchant

    Yes, the pro Austerians have been running around like loons since Wednesday declaring the ONS stats to be wrong.

    For neo-liberals it cannot possibly be the policy that’s wrong. Oh no. It’s the data that is wrong instead!

    We’re in recession – a recession that many of us pointed out was the most likely outcome of the cuts agenda while those shrieking for austerity were whipping up froth and mass hysteria.

  6. Anon E Mouse says:

    BenM – What cuts agenda? This government is borrowing more than the last one and if you think for one minute that a re-elected Labour Party would reverse one single cut then you just don’t get it.

    The poor under Labour had their job prospects wrecked by the open borders immigration policy they’d adopted and now we’re in the mess we’re in. An end to boom and bust? Hardly.

    Cameron suffers from bad PR but like Boris Johnson in London is infinitely more electable than his Labour opposite number and why would any real party supporter want any of the current shadow cabinet to run their lives again?

    What exactly has Ed Miliband ever done in the real world? This tax avoiding property millionaire went from school to university to work for Harriet Harman to becoming an MP. Why on earth would anyone want their lives run by him or Ed Balls again?

    Have Labour activists drifted so far out of touch with normality that they cannot see that?

    If Atul Hatwal want’s to live in a Westminster bubble and actually believes the stuff he’s written here then get used to opposition. Be complacent if you want but don’t expect to govern the people anytime soon.

    I could run the Labour Party better better than this lot and I’m an engineer not a politician.

    Normal people do not care at all about Rupert Murdoch the man who gave them Britain’s most popular newspaper The Sun, the Premier League and Sky Sports and they care even less about a school kid like Miliband who doesn’t realise it costs an hour’s wages to get into South Wales over the Severn bridge or put a single gallon of diesel into a car.

    When will the likes of BenM realise this and start wanting to help the working man and actually care about the direction of Labour?

  7. BenM says:


    Let’s take this apart line by line:

    – Borrowing more.

    Yep, that’s what happens when you cut for ideological reasons in a slump. You kill growth and so the stabilisers kick in maintaining the deficit (like here in the UK) or even driving it higher (like in Ireland or Greece and a risk for us in the UK too).

    – Job prospects for poor wrecked.

    Nonsense again. Labour oversaw record employment numbers alongside sustained low unemployment numbers. This happened right through the higher than trend immigration we saw after the A8 accession. It was the banks that killed off job prospects for millions, not foreigners.

    – Your man Cameron suffers bad PR

    Despite being a PR guru himself. Some irony there. PR is not good governance and people end up seeing through the spin – as they did with Tony Blair. More so when you’ve suffered a calamitous 2 months, like this government has.

    – EdM’s real world experience

    The criticism is spot on, but applies even more in spades to the “two arrogant posh boys” at the helm of the Tory Party.

    At the end of the day, EdM has gone from a privileged upbringing into the Labour Party to fight for the least advantaged. Cameron has gone from Eton, Oxford, cushy job at crap TV station into the Tory Party to fight for the interests of the rich and powerful. There is a marked moral difference.

    – Normal people don’t care about Murdoch

    In some guises this is true, but the overdue slump in the Tory share in the polls overwhelming shows that it is you howling at the moon this time.

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