by David Talbot
The festive period is traditionally a season of good will; the nation’s increasingly extended sabbatical into family and faith. We now stretch what in most other countries is two days off into ten. The stresses and strains of the past year are forgotten, and the only talk of politics is that of the family variety.
For a glorious week or so we forget all about politics and politicians. Ed Miliband entered 2012 seemingly forgetting what profession he was actually in, and endured a torrid start to the year as a result, not because of anything he might have said or done – indeed the perception that he had not said or done anything loomed large amongst the charges – but because his personal polling and that of the Labour party’s were far below where they ought to have been.
Now that the new year has been ushered in, it is an apt time for reflection and pause before the year ahead. Twelve months ago, the great British public tended to believe that the spending cuts were indeed necessary, that Labour was more to blame for them than the Conservatives, and that George Osborne was a bad chancellor whose policies would yet further damage their our own financial prospects. However, they didn’t trust the Labour party with the nation’s finances and were reconciled, not resigned, to accepting the Coalition’s economic medicine. A year on, by and large, the British public still think that – with astonishingly little variance.
The Guardian’s seasonal poll did at first glance bring some festive cheer to the Labour fold. Compared to the outbreak of 2012, when the Conservatives held a 5% advantage, Labour now enjoys an 8% lead for the third month in a row. Impressive, you might say, but as ever read beyond the large print to find the true runes of what the British people are saying.
The personal ratings of Ed Miliband’s highlight the stuttering progress the Labour leader has made in the past year. 45% of voters deem him incapable of handling a crisis, 46% say he cannot understand their everyday lives and, most disastrously of all, voters still do not trust him and his shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, on the only issue that truly matters to them – the economy.
The one true ray of light is the thumping 43% cushion Miliband enjoys from those who say he is backed by his party. At 66% it has improved by 10% over the past year and, as any passing politico will tell you, the public by and large reward united parties.
The improvement is only relative, though, as overall the Labour leader’s ratings are still not good, merely a lot less awful than they used to be. However the public have rightly rewarded Miliband for consolidation.
The Labour leaders’ promise that 2013 will be the year in which he sets out “concrete steps” in policy is to be welcomed. His new year message, and the tendency to repeat ad nauseam “one nation”, is however moot. As Labour’s most useful pollster, Lord Ashcroft, has unearthed; only a minority of voters have actually noticed Miliband’s oft-used phrase, and even less understand the historical reference or the political land-grab Labour is attempting. For many, their best guess is that “one nation” refers to Scotland remaining apart of the United Kingdom.
Labour is undoubtedly in a stronger position than a year past and that can be attributed to the Labour leader. He deserves our support but, as the end of year comparison shows; there is much work to be done if Christmas 2015 is to be spent in Downing Street. He will at some stage have to identify the odd policy and, it’s a fair bet to say, Labour’s lead will be much less healthy by the end of the year should economic growth return. With that, a hung parliament will become the most likely outcome at the next election, and loyalty will only take us so far.
David Talbot is a political consultant