Forget the swingers. Miliband is staking all on his core vote strategy

by Ben Mitchell

You have to admire Ed Miliband. Most would be desperate to rid themselves of the “Red Ed” tag. He seems to take it in his stride. In fact, I think he quite likes it. Being to the left of the public doesn’t seem to faze him. It spurs him on. The public don’t know what’s good for them. He’ll drag them to his way of thinking even if it kills him.

Before his speech, I did my usual “10 things I hope to hear” on Twitter bit. Two were answered. Partly. Number 1: to spell out how he’d help people struggling with the cost of living. And number 9: “two shamefully populist policies.”  I got half my wish on this one.

Whatever the energy companies say, however loudly they protest (the “unreliable witnesses” as Ed has called them), this one will be warmly welcomed by all voters. Whether it stands up in the face of scrutiny, time will tell. We should know once the Tory attack dogs are out in force and the PM’s had his go at conference.

The second – lowering the voting age – reeks of pub politics. A few pals get together down their local and thrash out some raw ideas about how they intend to capture the youth vote. This probably makes most people’s top five. Personally, I’m undecided on this issue, but if pushed, would say that 16 just seems too young to be allowed to vote. Yes, you can die for your country, but only with parental consent.

I was at conference last year (my first) and thought Ed delivered a quite brilliant speech. His attacks on the coalition were down to a tee. I watched this year’s online, and in order to ensure any opinions weren’t polluted by minute by minute commentary on Twitter, turned all social media off. Without having time to gauge the politicos instant reactions, my first thoughts were that the Ed I saw last year was an Ed at the peak of his powers. This year’s was an excellent performance: accomplished, smooth, self-deprecating (something Ed is very good at), but one for the activists.

This wasn’t the speech of a future prime minister, but of a Labour leader who bit by bit is remaking the party in his image. Members, supporters, councillors (who seem to be disproportionally on the party’s left wing) lapped it up. This was the Ed they voted for, Blairism and New Labour has been extinguished once and for all.

Ed Miliband is clearly staking everything on winning his core vote, hoping grumbly Liberals fall in line, and that UKIP do their worst to the Cameroons. It’s a huge risk, but a calculated one. Ed is used to taking risks. This is the thing I admire about him. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’ll pay off. Ignore the daily opinion polls. The only poll this year worth paying any attention to was the local election results in May. Labour won 29% of the vote. As they did at the last general election. In three years, they’ve stood still. Time and again it is worth repeating: Labour’s traditional base are an unreliable lot.

Ed knows this too. That was why the Lib Dems got only one mention. There’s no point being too nasty. Many Labour voters want blood. But, in 2015 they’re going to need their yellow friends. As a best case scenario.

The reaction this morning to the energy freeze proposals was to be expected. But, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of economic populism as David Clark over at Shifting Grounds calls it:

“The remarkable thing about these measures is that while both of them [the second, directed at landowners, asking them to either build on or give up empty land] will be attacked by opponents as a lurch to the left, they will nevertheless prove hugely popular with the public.”

In this respect David Clark is right. The public remain stubborn ‘small c’ conservatives, but retain a mischievous left wing streak. Most would renationalise the railways tomorrow if they could.

There’s nothing wrong with a bit of easy populism. I’ve been pleading to see more of it. The odd tough on crime measure would be nice.

What Ed’s speech has shown is that he has pretty much abandoned trying to woo the swing voter. He obviously thinks they won’t be necessary. He may still capture the ex Lib Dems, but after yesterday’s showing he’ll be able to count on the backing of disgruntled Tories on one hand.

I was pleased to see the environment getting a mention and a nod to one million green jobs, however unrealistic this appears. Green issues have been scandalously sidelined by this government. Short termism always wins the day.

The passages on Murdoch and the NHS shamelessly played to the gallery. I’m afraid I thought some of his comments on the NHS were ill judged. This has not been a good year for health professionals. Whether you believe the coalition wish to privatise the hell out of the NHS or not shouldn’t detract from recent or past cases of negligence and appalling standards of care that have made headlines.

The reaction by GPs at being told they should work out of hours and on weekends in return for their ample salary has been unedifying. Miliband was right that Labour resuscitated the NHS, but the needlessly overgenerous salaries to GPs and consultants is evidence of money not well spent when times were good.

I’m getting increasingly irritated by the “We Love the NHS” mantra that all Labour supporters feel we must chant ad nauseum. The NHS is a vital institution that needs to be preserved. It does some things extremely well, and others not so. It is not beyond criticism. A little humility for scandals such as Mid-Staffs, which happened on Labour’s watch, wouldn’t go amiss.

My overall worry is that this speech will keep the status-quo as it is. Those who loved it were going to vote Labour anyway. Those unsure of Ed Miliband may have been impressed by his delivery, his warmth, but still scratching their heads as to why they should vote for him. Decent guy, likeable guy, they would have thought, but my future PM? Unlikely.

Again, this leaves us as we were, but now three and a half years on.

What Ed’s performance did do was convince me further that Labour must do all they can to push for the leaders’ debates on TV. I think Ed will come out of them well. This will be essential floating voter territory. A couple more populist ideas are a must. Think public transport and those weary commuters in the South-East. Their votes are sorely needed. Or maybe not, if yesterday is anything to go by.

Ben Mitchell is deputy editor of the cross-party blog Speaker’s Chair


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12 Responses to “Forget the swingers. Miliband is staking all on his core vote strategy”

  1. swatantra says:

    Agree with Ben apart from spelling of ‘gage’. Was at Conference Monday and Tuesday Returned disappointed on Tuesday night, not bothering to stay for Wednesday.
    Spoke with Michael Meacher promoting his new book. Does anybody read books these days, or is it all online stuff? Saw Jim Murphy exhuding ‘power’ getting himself photographed all over the place, expecially with Frank. But giving pointless anwers on Syria and hopeless answers on Trident. I bet the other 300 MPs s were doing the same. At that point saw the futility of it all and of Labour in its present state. unless we have a grass roots reform and a cull at the top, we’re heading nowhere. Its not a riot we need its a bloody revolution.

  2. john says:

    If im right 7% of Libdems voters stay at home,a few Tories will go Ukip and about the same Libdems will go Tory maybe 1% of Libdems will go over to labour, as such the next general election turnout will be at least 2.5% lower ,i reckon some who voted tory last time will stay at home, maybe some labour voters will stay home too, so if there’s a 62% turnout next time,
    As such labour could get 33.3% of the vote and Tories get 41%! Despite getting less votes

  3. The public neither watched the speech nor gave a two-penny damn for his performance values. But controlling the avarice of the foreign energy companies will appeal enormously. Already those scavenging profiteers are promising a blacked-out freezing Britain…..running scared…..no doubt Dave will say they’re right……the tory media has already started screaming about socialist menace whilst Boris has unleashed the full power of his literacy saying Ed is an unrepentant socialist and socialism has failed all around the world. However, Etonialism isn’t doing too well either.  But, thanks be, it doesn’t have any smear masters, spin masters, PR hyperbolics, liars, cheats, frauds, nepotists, expense snafflers, wasters of tax-payers money, daddy’s money, anybody’s money, and is full of honourable,  honourable men – men of great intellect and wise experience that will lead the nation into a glorious future for every hard-working British family.  Hurrah! Happily, enter Ed…

  4. Stuart C says:

    “Exhuded” power? – hoist by your own petard there swatantra

  5. Henrik says:

    Minor politician makes speech to roomful of leftist activists. In other news….

  6. John P Reid says:

    Eds speech was fantastic especially the bit about mental health, with Burnham and Douglas Alexander’s ones great too, Our problem still is that we are like a television that has been left on in the corner of a room that no one is listening too, Possibly due to the propoganda of the last. govt that put off so many others,

  7. Ex-Labour says:

    @ John Problem

    A point of fact for you Leftards. The Labour government introduced the Climate Change Act forcing energy companies to build useless inefficient wind power that can not possibly produce anywhere near what we require. These Renewables Obligations, enshrined in legislation by Labour, are creating fuel poverty for virtually everyone with about 20% of your energy bill down to the damage done by Labour eco-loons. And who was in charge of energy when these ludicrous measure were put in place….step forward one Ed Miliband.

    Now he calls a 4 -5 % profit as “profiteering” when he was responsible for the biggest and fastest increase in domestic bills ever.

    The Labour and Miliband hypocrisy is staggering beyond belief.

  8. Danny says:

    “But, in 2015 they’re going to need their yellow friends. As a best case scenario.”

    Really? I’ve met many people who bleat that a coalition with the Lib Dems is the best Labour can hope for, but not so many who will accept my offer of putting a little wager on it. Shame, otherwise I could clean up come May 2015.

  9. David Walsh says:

    The May local elections this year were overwhelmingly for shire county council seats, which with the spread of unitaries in the bigger towns, means that it was a national contest fought mainly on the blue battleground of small settlements and rural areas. In addition no metropolitan areas were contested. 29% is not all that bad in these circumstances.

  10. Tafia says:

    David Walsh – we had a full slate County Council election here on Anglesey May just gone. Labour were slaughtered. Turn out was exceptional for a Council election – 50.5%. On a 30 seat county council they now hold 3 seats and are an irrelevance.

    Then in two months or so later – in August just gone we had an Assembly by-Election. Guess what? Labour slaughtered again. On a very respectable turn-out for a by-election of 42.45%, their vote halved and they finished a very very long way behind the winner – who polled four times as many votes as them.

  11. uglyfatbloke says:

    There’s a lot of faith put in percentages and swings, but out electoral system does n’t really work that way. Suppose Labour only lose 15 seats to the gnats in Scotland…and that’s a pretty big ‘if’…how may seats does Ed need to win in England to make up for that if he is going to lead a majority government? It certainly won’t e balanced out by tory losses in Scotland since they only have one MP there and they are going to lose the seat to Labour. The glib-dumbs look like they will lose all of their Scottish seats apart from Orkney and Shetland and..maybe…N. Fife if Campbell does not retire and they don’t look like they will do a whole lot better in England, so there probably won’t be enough glibs to make a coalition even if anybody wanted one.

  12. leslie scott says:

    As a socialist I would vote Labour. I would support Mr Milliband because of what may be seen as faults. He does not push a policy about this and that, as most do because they see this reaction as a necessity. He may until now seem to struggle to find policies or promises. And then the silly idea about power supply companies comes out. By all means attack the big 6 power companies. But this particular effort seems amateurish. I have no answer myself. But it is urgent to find one, if only because of the squeeze we are going to feel as our power stations are being reduced in number. But again I say that this probably may not be found by any government intervention.
    I do think that good government is about attitude and caring, about what a minister thinks and influences, rather than legislation. With a caring society those “Big 6” could not thrive in the particular exploitative way they do.
    Perhaps impossible. But as an overall policy, pushing a caring society would be surely more appealing than the present government’s interventions which cause me to believe that we have been victim of alien invasion.

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