Could Ed Miliband become the accidental prime minister?

by Dave Talbot

As the results of Labour’s leadership election were read out, a collective sigh of relief echoed through the Tory ranks. The prevailing thought in British politics was that David Cameron had already won the next general election.

The Labour party had been demonstrably stupid. The party that had governed for thirteen years had chosen to be comforted, rather than challenged. Ed Miliband would never walk through the door of Number 10, except only as a guest. The party, so the commentariat thought, had chosen the wrong Miliband – and would suffer the electoral consequences.

For many months the analysis held true; the public just couldn’t see the junior Miliband as PM material, the party’s economic reputation was in tatters and barely disguised mutterings of discontent began to ripple through the parliamentary Labour party.

The elephant in the room was Miliband himself. His personal ratings were absolutely dire. At one point only 4% thought he’d be good in a crisis, and 5% a natural leader. Just as Cameron had to prove that the Tories cared, Miliband needed to show he wasn’t a geeky loser. Voters told Tory focus groups that they thought the Labour leader was odd, weird and strange. More odd Ed than red Ed.

How the wheel of political fortune turns. Miliband, for so long uncomfortable in his own skin and unsure of his position, has overtaken the man seemingly born to rule. Cameron’s poll ratings have slumped alarmingly, whilst Miliband’s have increased by 22% – a dramatic shift by any standard. Having triumphed in the local elections, a consistent poll lead has also emerged. It is not quite a transformation from Wallace to Winston, but the shift is in the right direction.

The shift is in large part a reaction against the coalition, rather than the masses returning to Labour. But since the Budget, the government has lost the benefit of the doubt. Osborne’s well worn line that tough decisions are needed to deal with the deficit left by Labour was usurped in his Budget by the decision to cut the fifty pence top rate of tax.

In one fell swoop the Conservatives sacrificed the public’s trust in their underlying motives on the altar of the top rate of tax. Fresh doubts are surfacing about the benefits of austerity as nervous British eyes flicker across the channel to an ever-deepening eurozone crisis.

None of this, of course, means that Ed Miliband will coast to victory. But since the worst-received Budget for 15 years, the Tory lead on the economy, the key battleground for the next election, which last September stood at ten points, has evaporated. One by one, Labour’s big beasts — Blair, Darling, Mandelson, Adonis — have come home, content that Miliband has at last find the right route in opposition. All of a sudden, the Labour party looks serious again.

The party has earned another hearing. The public have tired of the prime minister continually declaring that there is no alternative and his insistence, much like Gordon Brown, that all the blame lies somewhere else. They have granted Ed Miliband an opportunity. He, along with his party, must shed their historic preference for comfort and take the tough choices needed to regain credibility.

Miliband as prime minister is no longer the absurd proposition it once was. But if we’re not careful he will be an accidental prime minister, crossing the door of Number 10 by mistake not purpose.

Nothing in politics is ever as simple as the saying so makes it seem. But there are people who never thought the phrase would pass their lips who are beginning to wonder whether Ed Miliband could just be prime minister after all.

David Talbot is a political consultant.


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32 Responses to “Could Ed Miliband become the accidental prime minister?”

  1. Rather red Ed than blue Dave. The older Milliband brother is far too much in the same style as Blair, the man who changed pro equality Labour into pro capitalist Labour. The last thing we need is another Tory left winger as leader of our beloved party. However, I don’t agree with all of Ed’s policies, but he is growing into the job and he seems prepared to listen to all sides of Labour even us “dinosaurs” on the Socialist wing!! Keep going Ed not new Labour, nor old Labour, just plain pro equality Labour.

  2. Anon E Mouse says:

    The party will earn the right to be listened to when it apologises for the mess it left this country in.

    As soon as the leader’s debates start Clegg and Cameron will just home in on Labour’s previous record and that’s it.

    As for Miliband all the most popular newspaper in the country (whose owner he antagonised with this boring phone hacking stuff) will do is print a picture of Wallace in a lightbulb and it’s over.

    It doesn’t mean that it would be right to do that but they will.

    The sooner Labour apologise for the mess they left us in the better. PFI anyone?

  3. Anon E Mouse says:

    Oh and Miliband getting elected by “accident” is just wishful thinking…

  4. john P reid says:

    anon e mouse, I agree

  5. The Future says:

    Ed Miliband was always credible. He just wasn’t credible to a group of people who thought they and only they knew what was needed in order to win power.

    Fortunately they are now being proved wrong.

    Take the economy. Ed Balls faced down his internal and external critics and has earned us the right to be heard because he was willing to say something that was worthy of being listened to. Not just a host of nothing PR statements that was different from the Tories. If we had followed the Labour uncut route then the Tories could just turn round and say “but you agreed there was no alternative.”

    Of course we have to do more and we can’t just rely on the Tories screwing up. But to pretend to be Tories as uncut has argued would result in no one listening at all.

  6. swatantra says:

    Highly unlikely.
    But the Party has very lttle to apologise for apart from Iraq and even on that issue Parliament voted unanimously for the War; I myself was convinced it was right but how was I to know that MI6 and CIA had dodgy evidence. The only successful revolutions are those that emanate from the People themselves rising up against autocracy like the French Revolution and Russian Revolution.
    As for the economy, it was really a collective responsibility and guilt of the British People in self delusion that things could only get better all the time, not worse, just like the the adaage that shares can go down as well as up. So the Party was not to blame. The Great British Public were like the Greeks of today living on Credit and beyond their means. Was it all the Govts fault? Not really.
    So we don’t need lectures from Dave and Clegg and ex Labour turncoats about where the blame lies.

  7. Steve says:

    Anon E Mouse – Explain what in your terms is the mess? Was the collapse of the banking sector all Labours fault which resulted in the high deficit? were the hospitals and schools left in dire straits, was the infrastructure like roads and rail made worse since 1997, was crime out of hand? Explain what mess you refer to and explain why it is all one political party’s fault?

  8. Stephen says:

    Dave,

    Just because Dave is doing badly doesn’t mean that Ed is doing well.

  9. james says:

    I see `so it’s all the fault of the people`. Where was the leadership in all this – you know regulating the banks, capping mortgages to a certain ratio and banning self-cert mortgages, putting in personal credit controls? The main problem for Labour at the moment is that it doesn’t have any guiding principles apart from `let’s make everything great for everybody`.

    Any Social Democrat knows that you have to be transparent about the pain before you can experience the gain. As in my local area – Labour are for anything that people want them to be or they say nothing at all. And they still can’t gain control of the council.

  10. Kieran,

    Part of the battle is to get out of the mindset that seemingly vast swathes of the party have that anyone who isn’t nostalgic for the era of Brezhnev is a Tory. Okay, I dramatise – but it is boring to hear so many party members repeat so often that anyone who supports, however tentatively, Miliband D or Blair is somehow not worthy of membership in the Labour movement. It debases the debate and needlessly causes friction. To answer your post, no Dave is not “blue” (and it is odd you mention him as I certainly didn’t in my article) and yes, Miliband E is doing better.

    Anon E Mouse,

    You were seemingly copied in to the Tory’s Chief Whip’s email last week that told his backbenches to heckle Miliband with the default “apologise!” roar.

    Seemingly you will also be interested that the government will borrow £158bn more than initially Osborne promised. I believe Fraser Nelson had a very good article about it last week. Best to read up.

    Stephen,

    I agree. I also, in fairness, didn’t say explicitly say that. I have elsewhere described how Miliband has been doing poorly for, oh, 18 months or so now.

  11. Stephen G. says:

    DT: “He [Ed M.], along with his party, must shed their historic preference for comfort and take the tough choices needed to regain credibility.”

    If you’re saying that Ed needs to move on from the backward-looking New Labour comfort zone then you’ve hit the nail on the head. We’ve got to move on from a blinkered belief in the benefits of marketisation – that was the God that failed.

  12. Anon E Mouse says:

    Steve

    Forget selling off our gold at a historic low – that was just straight forward stupidity from an incompetent chancellor but let’s look at some facts.

    1. The tax take was high in 2007 (before the so called crash) yet the structural deficit in this country wasn’t paid off at all.

    2. The public sector rose massively with the nonsense that it’s better to pay these people than pay dole. So how is paying Job Seekers more expensive than some “Fruit and Veg Encouraging Lesbian Outreach Co-ordinator” wages? Stupid jobs that never previously existed and hopefully don’t exist now.

    3. Immigration ran out of control because these people tended to vote Labour yet they took the unskilled jobs (and houses) that the indigenous population should have been forced to do. They sent their money abroad as well.

    4. Minimum wage means skilled workers like plumbers and electricians compete with workers from Poland. Whereas before they could get £20-£40 an hour they now get £15-£20 because Labour didn’t specify different skill sets in that grouping.

    5. University’s under Labour were seen as the only form of education that mattered so engineers like myself were sneered at by kids educated in “Media Studies” or some other useless course.

    6. Labour continued the Tory’s faulty PFI programs so our grandchildren can pay for the hospitals until they retire. £256 to change a lightbulb anyone? And the excuse was that they were in disrepair in 1997. Then fu*^king well fix them then. That what government’s with a huge majority are supposed to do.

    7. Labour deregulated the banks and rewarded them like no previous government in history and when they did collapse Brown ran ran shouting “I saved the world” as he sucked taxes from the poor in this country to reward the bankers. Remember who allowed Fred Goodwin to crash a bank then retire on £750K a year – yep Labour again.

    8. Labour blatantly lied over a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty and worse they surrendered part of our rebate on nothing. Absolutely nothing. Oh except to pay for Peter Mandelson as an EU commissioner. Who like Blair has now got to be filthy rich.

    9. Proposed NI increases, 10p tax, the Gurkha’s, £billions on an ID card scheme they didn’t implement, hospital trusts, and on and on and on.

    Oh and lies over foreign wars in support of a Republican president determined to topple Saddam Hussein.

    Oh and cosying up to Rupert Murdoch and Paul Dacre like no previous administration.

    I need to stop now Steve – my hand is aching and I’ve only just started. Next you’ll be telling me that it wasn’t Labour that signed up to the ECHR that allows illegal immigrant’s like that medieval moron Abu Qatada to remain in our country at our expense.

    Labour need to start apologising and to start now….

  13. Anon E Mouse says:

    Not to mention the way Gordon Brown and his cronies treated this blog’s very own Peter Watt with their bullying ways…

    Can someone in Labour please please please imagine that the whole world doesn’t view the party through those rose coloured specs that you like to wear.

    Then maybe steps might be taken to make the whole party electable agin….

  14. paul barker says:

    In many ways 2012 looks like 1989, labour convinced it will win, commentators predicting the death of the libdems & their replacement by the greens, it all seems familiar.
    Underneath I believe we are closer to 1981.

  15. Anon E Mouse says:

    paul barker

    The only thing I would say is that UKIP are polling well at the moment which could split the Tory vote.

    If Miliband manned up and offered an IN-OUT referendum he would sweep into Downing Street tomorrow morning.

    I think the country would vote to stay in Europe but it would show he had the balls to be a leader. Labour used to be the anti-Europen party once!

  16. BenM says:

    More AnonEMouse Tory nonsense.

    1. Tax take in 2007 was 38% of GDP. Hardly “high”. More likely “not enough” – particularly from the rich.
    2. Better people employed in public sector than not employed at all (Osborne’s plan)
    3. Immigration was (and is) high. Tory spin to say “out of control”. Have you tried to immigrate to the UK?
    4. You think plumbers and electricians are affected by the minimum wage? Bizarre.
    5. Paranoid nonsense
    6. PFI and PPP are wasteful programmes which emanate from rightwing neo-liberal economic thinking. The Tories started it, Ossie is continuing it. More waste when the government should just get on and pay for capital infrastructure itself.
    7. Labour deregulated the banks. The Tories called for even more deregulation! Even now they won’t countenance a much needed financial transaction tax. Whose side are the Tories on? Do we need an answer to that?
    8. Lisbon never needed a referendum.
    9. Pasty Tax, Granny Tax and, worst of all, reduction of 50% rate for their rich chums.

    You’re in no position to lecture anyone on tax rates.

  17. Brumanuensis says:

    I’m still amazed at just how stupid Osborne’s budget was. I thought, up until I read it, that there was no way he’d cut the supplementary-rate. Even if he wanted to do it, I reasoned, he would recognise the disastorous political consequences of doing so. But somehow, he misread the situation.

    I reckon Ed’s bounce might be short-lived – he couldn’t sustain the phone-hacking bounce, although that was partly due to the riots. However if he can really press the attack to Cameron, then this time might be different. I don’t think a lot has changed really in terms of Ed’s performance in the last six months. It’s just a matter of ‘events, dear boy, events’.

    @Anon E Mouse

    ‘Labour used to be the anti-European party once’!

    Indeed, but that was under Michael Foot. And before then, twenty years earlier under Gaitskell. Not exactly encouraging omens.

  18. swatantra says:

    Lets see what the Irish do in their Referendum, and the Greeks do in their GE, before we leave responsible decisions like this to the electorate.
    If the Irish and Greeks vote to accept the inevitable and stay in Europe, then I might be convinced about Referendums. But my view is that Govts should have the b**ls to take tough decisions like Europe and Regional Govt and Reform of HoL and PR etc without pandering to the skeptiks all the time. Thats why we have General Elections and Party Manifestos.

  19. Brumanuensis says:

    Oh and because I can’t let this one slide.

    “I need to stop now Steve – my hand is aching and I’ve only just started. Next you’ll be telling me that it wasn’t Labour that signed up to the ECHR that allows illegal immigrant’s like that medieval moron Abu Qatada to remain in our country at our expense”.

    Actually yes we will, because the ECHR predates and foms no part of the EU. Guess which Prime Minister signed the European Convention on Human Rights?

    That’s right: Winston Churchill

    That bloody Trot. How dare he throw away our sovereignty.

  20. Anon E Mouse says:

    BenM – Just as I think some realism may be coming from Labour activists here you are to make my day and buck the trend!

    How big do you want the public sector to be as a proportion of the workforce? The ONLY money that government’s have comes from the private sector and NOTHING ELSE.

    Immigration: Sorry I’m just going from the LABOUR advisor Andrew Nether. He’s right and you’re wrong (again).

    You DON”T think plumbers and electricians are affected by the minimum wage? Bizarre.

    So Labour didn’t want 50% of students to go to university then?

    PFI ran out of control under a LABOUR government. The fact you criticise it means there’s hope for you yet BemM (Mind you I remember you telling people how great for Labour Gordon Brown was on LFF!)

    LABOUR DEREGULATED THE BANKS AND REWARDED THE RICH LIKE NO PREVIOUS GOVERNMENT IN HISTORY.

    Forget the Tories – they weren’t in power. End of. Oh ok then:

    LABOUR DEREGULATED THE BANKS AND REWARDED THE RICH LIKE NO PREVIOUS GOVERNMENT IN HISTORY.

    Lisbon was a fudge and you know it. But why not give the people a choice now? If Miliband could grow a pair he’d get my vote and a lot lot more in this country would vote Labour…

    Pasty tax? Grow up BenM. I counter that with 100,000 woman and children dead in Iraq.

    Granny Tax – if they have the wealth they should pay. Typical of you to want to reward the rich (again).

    Would those rich chums include the property owning multi millionaire tax avoider Ed Miliband?

    You need to do Labour a favour and stop trying to help them because frankly you are doing the government’s job it. Big hint BenM: Not everything in the Guardian or on the BBC or from the lips of a politician is true you know 😉

  21. Anon E Mouse says:

    BenM

    And since I’m on minimum wage (if I’m lucky) then I am in a position to lecture you. And the reduction in tax for me by this government is in stark contrast to the removal of the 10p rate by the last useless LABOUR government…

  22. Mucker says:

    Labour just do not get it.
    Why is it that socialist governments always always run out of other peoples money?

  23. “Forget selling off our gold at a historic low”

    Can we talk about how much certain utilities were sold for in the 1980s, and what they are worth now? Not to mention hundreds of thousands of houses which weren’t replaced and for many of which which we are now paying housing benefit to rent back from landlords…

  24. BenM says:

    @Mucker

    Conservatives have an excellent record of running out of money.

    Which is why all recessions up to 2008 had occurred under Tory governments.

  25. BenM says:

    @Brumanuensis

    Taxi for AnonEMouse!

  26. Anon E Mouse says:

    oldpolitics

    Certain utilities were sold off too cheaply in the 1980’s but the question was about Labour and it’s mistakes.

    Housing was sold off during the Tory years but why do Labour want to continue to pay so much to the greedy landlords now? Labour want to reward the rich as usual.

    Is that why the building of social housing fell to an all time low under Labour? (which it did)

    Was it to allow the rich to fleece the state on housing. Seems so…

    Oh and the taxes for stupid windmills on greedy landowners land. Once again Labour rewarding the rich as usual.

    This is a Labour blog oldpolitics so who cares what the Tories did.

    Tell you what though with the type of majority governments dream of in 1997 it’s just a shame Labour didn’t use the goodwill of the people to actually man up and do something for the poor instead of punishing them.

    Which they did….

  27. Anon E Mouse says:

    BenM

    You haven’t answered a single point I made (again).

    Oh and I take public transport now since selling my car two years ago. And living in South Wales it isn’t easy.

    So cancel the taxi please…

  28. Anon E Mouse says:

    Brumanuensis

    Sorry I missed your previous remarks.

    When did Winston Churchill do this?

    “The Human Rights Act 1998 is a law, which came into full force in October 2000. It gives further effect in the UK to the fundamental rights and freedoms in the European Convention on Human Rights.”

    Go on….

  29. BenM says:

    @AnonEMouse

    Sigh.

    Another reactionary Tory who doesn’t understand the relationship between the ECHR and the Human Rights Act 1998.

  30. Brumanuensis says:

    @Anon E Mouse

    Ok, this was what you wrote initially:

    “I need to stop now Steve – my hand is aching and I’ve only just started. Next you’ll be telling me that it wasn’t Labour that signed up to the ECHR that allows illegal immigrant’s like that medieval moron Abu Qatada to remain in our country at our expense”

    Now you’re saying:

    “When did Winston Churchill do this?

    “The Human Rights Act 1998 is a law, which came into full force in October 2000. It gives further effect in the UK to the fundamental rights and freedoms in the European Convention on Human Rights.”

    Go on…”

    Ok, in fairness this is a common misunderstanding. The ECHR was drawn up by the Council of Europe – a body un-related to the EU – in 1950. It was signed by the original signatories, of which the UK was one, in 1953, when Winston Churchill was Prime Minister. In 1959, the European Court of Human Rights was created. Since then, any citizen of a signatory nation has had the right to take a case (within reason) to the ECHR.

    What the Human Rights Act 1998 did was make it possible for UK citizens to apply the treaty in UK courts, without having to go all the way to Strasbourg. Note the words’ further effect’. Abu Qatada didn’t need the HRA to go to the ECHR, he already had that right.

    I will now issue a correction. The UK signed in March 1951, meaning it was Atlee, not Churchill, whose government authorised the signing. Before getting too excited though, remember that one of the senior drafters was David Maxwell-Fyfe, who served as Home Secretary under Churchill. As Peter Oborne has pointed out, Churchill was a major inspiration for the ECHR ( http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/libertycentral/2009/oct/04/human-rights-act-conservatives ). The drafting of the Convention was at the suggestion of Churchill himself.

  31. Brumanuensis says:

    Just to make it clear, sentence 2 of para 1 is what I originally thought.

  32. Anon E Mouse says:

    BenM

    I understand it all too well – that’s the problem….

    Anyway you still haven’t answered my previous points as usual…

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