Much rumour and speculation in recent days on the aftermath of a potential Labour defeat next year. The Guardian splashed last Saturday with an anonymous frontbencher demanding Ed Miliband’s resignation if Labour loses the next election. The Mail followed up earlier this week with “friends” of the Labour leader talking up his chances of “doing a Kinnock” and fighting on in the event of a loss.
To party members these types of stories often seem to erupt into the news without warning. But in reality they represent the cresting waves above currents that are surging below the surface.
Uncut has now spoken to four parliamentary sources that have highlighted a specific operation by team Miliband to reset expectations in the PLP. Rather than an outright victory, or even being the largest party, this endeavour is focused on setting a new benchmark: the minimum number of seats Ed Miliband needs to stay on as leader.
The magic number currently being touted is 290, a gain of 32 on Labour’s current voting strength.
290 seats for Labour would almost certainly mean the Tories were the largest party with the Lib Dems in the high 20s to low 30s. Labour would be facing another five years in opposition.
The leadership operation has involved senior parliamentarians, political advisers and friendly journalists, all giving a similar narrative on why Ed should stay. Common phrases include, “two term journey,” “changing the terms of the debate,” and “Labour needs to stay unified.”
In the event of Labour securing 290 seats, the leader’s pitch would offer the prospect of a return to office if Labour could stay unified under Miliband and make another 30 or so gains at the next election. He would have a track record on making this type of progress and the fear of a divisive leadership election would be used to discourage rival candidates supporters declaring publicly.
This is the context for the recent press stories. They haven’t just happened randomly. They are the reaction to a concerted lobbying campaign by the leader’s team that prepares the ground for defeat and the internal battle to come. Expect more over the coming weeks and months.