by David Talbot
“Poll gives Labour lead of 15 points over Tories” thundered the front page of the Times. The only reliability about polls is that they are inherently unreliable. But here was tangible evidence, at the first glance, that the voters are seriously thinking about putting Ed Miliband in Downing Street – and with a thumping majority at that.
But dig a little deeper and the poll unearths some visibly disheartening results for the Labour leader. The Labour party might be a full fifteen points ahead of those dastardly Tories, but its leader remains a detriment to the ticket.
The poll, and subsequent polls at that, finds a clear and rising majority of the great British people who would prefer David Cameron in Downing Street over the Labour leader. When forced to choose between the two leaders, 31 per cent want Miliband to replace Cameron. However, a rather eye-watering 60 per cent want Cameron to stay in Downing Street and, particularly painfully for Miliband, the other 37 per cent say they are dissatisfied with the job the prime minister is doing, but still prefer him to Miliband.
Miliband’s personal ratings are dire. There truly is no way to skirt round this issue any longer.
The top five “qualities” listed for Ed Miliband were given as: “out of his depth”, then “weak”, “out of touch” and “indecisive”. The fifth most chosen attribute was “weird”. If those are his qualities, the list of his weaknesses must be frightful. It will be interesting to see how the much-fabled, and oft quoted, “party strategists” smooth out this manifest concerns.
The ironic conclusion is that, as John Rentoul pointed out from his eagle-eyed perch, the British public want a Labour government, but with a Conservative prime minister. It’s easy to see why. British politics has a sweet spot. It is found by combining fiscal conservatism with a tough stance on law and order and a programme of public service reform. It’s Labour compassion with Tory toughness.
Election after election, though with notable anomalies, the electorate seeks out the party that comes closest to a combination of Conservative stolidity and Labour compassion. In 1997 and 2001, Labour got it right. In 2010 neither party convinced the people they were in the right place, so the electorate conceived a coalition as if to remind the political classes just who is in charge.
David Cameron remains the Conservatives’ best electoral asset. The wild talk of his assassination is, from an objective point of view, difficult to fathom. His qualities are the qualities the British people want in a political leader. It just so happens to be that the party he leads is currently unpopular, but it is by no means terminal.
For Miliband the flurry of polls in the run up to conference with comfortable headline leads will placate some, and please many. These poll leads may rack up, but they are in danger of masking the weaknesses of our leader which, left unrectified in the second half of this parliament, will surely be too late.
It was, and still is, easy to be emotionally sceptical about New Labour but rationally accepting of it. Blair echoed what Britain thought for the best part of a decade. And to save the bandwidth, no, he wasn’t the Conservative leader many of in our ranks seem to think he was. He espoused leadership qualities the British electorate must readily identified with Conservative party leaders – which they have systematically elected over Labour leaders in our history of governance.
In their eternal wisdom, the British electorate are saying that whilst they would vote Miliband’s party into government, they don’t want him as the prime minister. Voters will seemingly tolerate Cameron’s aloof smugness, as detailed in the poll, because they recognise he has far superior “prime minsterial qualities” than Mr Miliband. Unless the Labour leader’s ratings improve, the poll leads will fade and another hung parliament looms. British politics has always retained elements from the left combined with features of the right, and it is this combination which offers the best path to power.
David Talbot is a political consultant