Ed Miliband lost more than a by-election last night

by Atul Hatwal

Labour didn’t just lose a by-election last night, the centre-piece of Ed Miliband’s recovery strategy collapsed.

Rochester and Strood was meant to be a firebreak; the barrier that prevented the flames of a vanishing poll lead and growing internal Labour dissent from enveloping Ed Miliband.

Last week was the Labour leader’s big fight-back speech, this week was meant to be about the Tory by-election defeat to Ukip and next week should have been David Cameron’s Götterdämmerung with new defections to Ukip and the emergence of a letter in the press, signed by dozens of Tory backbenchers, calling for a change in leader.

This was the optimistic scenario mapped out by Ed Miliband’s advisers. Three weeks that would shift the topic of political conversation from Labour turmoil to Tory troubles.

As the Tories tore themselves apart, Labour jitters would subside, the poll lead would return and the path to a narrow victory would, once again, open up.

At least that was the hope. It was always a desperate strategy, entirely reliant on the actions of others: Ukip voters, truculent Tory backbenchers and journalists happy to move onto a new target.

Partially as a result of Emily Thornberry’s master-class in social media self-harm, but largely because the Ukip victory was so much narrower than expected, David Cameron is not facing the backbench meltdown forecast a few weeks ago.

There might be another defection, but the chances of a signed letter becoming public and a leadership challenge have all but disappeared.

Now there is nothing left to reset the political dynamic and Labour is left with a mess because of the type of by-election campaign necessitated by Ed Miliband’s leadership woes.

The linchpin of the Labour leader’s plan was a crushing defeat for the Tories at the hands of Ukip.  Only then could David Cameron’s position be destabilised.

Labour clearly couldn’t call for voters to back Ukip, but it could do the next best thing: fight the Rochester and Strood campaign on Ukip’s core subject, immigration.

Unlike Heywood and Middleton at the start of October, when the party virtually ignored it, this time around immigration was all that national figures wanted to talk about, despite the main issues locally being about health and housing.

Yvette Cooper and Rachel Reeves were busy making “tough” new announcements earlier in the week to ensure it remained front and centre for the final days of the campaign.

The more cerebral of Ed Miliband’s team have always been sceptical about the capacity for Labour to win on immigration and nervous about the boost it gives Ukip.

This is terrain where Labour has made literally zero progress since 2010 and is mistrusted by over 4 in 5 voters. Just before the last election in a YouGov poll, 15% trusted Labour on the subject; a couple of weeks ago it was still 15%.

It’s why Labour ran from the subject in Heywood.

However, in Rochester the objective was never a Labour victory but a massive Tory defeat, so Labour tried to focus the campaign on immigration.

As one MP said to Uncut a fortnight ago, “Both of us (Labour and Conservatives) are going to lose to Ukip on immigration, but Cameron has more to lose because of his nutters.”

Early this morning, it was clear that the gamble had backfired. The massive Tory defeat did not materialise and Labour had wasted most of the past month confusing its own support.

John Harris noted the dissonance in Labour’s messaging in the Guardian this morning,

“In terms of tonal consistency, it all rather suggests that old boom-crash beat, and a heartwarming rendition of We Shall Overcome suddenly giving way to Paranoid by Black Sabbath.”

One of the frequent criticisms of Ed Miliband is that the sum of his policies does not add up to a coherent whole.  But when Labour’s rhetoric is characterised by a mish mash of opposition to benefit sanctions such as the bedroom tax while backing benefit sanctions for EU migrants that are more stringent than the Tories’ proposals, is this any surprise?

Regardless of the pros or cons of either policy, the combination makes for a discordant, incoherent platform. Principle seems absent and tactics paramount over any semblance of consistency.

Because Labour needed Ukip to win, Labour wilfully fought the campaign Ukip wanted and as a result have reinforced the doubts many voters have about what Ed Miliband stands for. This is the true legacy of the by-election.

The Labour leader has no more shots left in the locker. Rochester and Strood was his last hope to disrupt the political narrative. The next major political event is the Autumn Statement which will refocus attention on the economy – a topic on which Labour trails by double digits.

Now, Ed Miliband is left to the mercy of the fates, and the PLP.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut

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21 Responses to “Ed Miliband lost more than a by-election last night”

  1. Madasafish says:

    The trouble is Labour are being lead by people who appear to be political pygmies… (I apologise to pygmies:-)

    A 35% policy is just an obvious hostage to fortune.
    The disdain for “the working classes” is only matched by dumb stupidity of those those showing it.

    Meanwhile all UKIP need to do is follow Napoleon’s advice “Never Interfere With an Enemy While He’s in the Process of Destroying Himself”

    I still expect Labour to have most seats despite all the above… unless the Labour Leadership is only practising… (at self destruction) and there is worse to come.

  2. paul barker says:

    All true enough but Ed isnt really the problem is he ? The whole reason Labour chose Ed was to avoid splits, its that imperative which is the root of your incoherence. Probably Labours next crisis can be put off till January, Xmas trumps Politics, but then what ?

  3. George S says:

    labour long ago lost its connection with those of us who work but arent professionals pulling in 6 figures and living inside the M25.
    If it wasnt for the inertia of “i’ve voted labour all my life” then the vote would have collapsed a decade ago. Now as all parties fight for their core vote which is deserting them in droves, they simply cant show themselves to be these detached from reality automatons they insist in displaying via social media, MSM or tv.
    Expenses theft, gerrymandering of the entire country, literal treason to the UK selling our sovereignty to the EU mega state and spending billions we havent actually got is going to cost a lot of arrogant people their cushy sinecures next year … and they deserve every kick in the teeth the electorate is going to deliver at the ballot box.
    Just where the disintegration of the binary electoral system is going to leave us is however anyones guess.

  4. CrapEditor says:

    Utter trash from a self proclaim Miliband hater

  5. CrapEditor says:

    Goodness me, a 10K majority wiped out with a 3k UKIP majority and is great news for the Tories. Utter trash from a self proclaim Miliband hater; this is what they call in the business we have already priced your crap in and no longer gives two hoots about your lies and made up facts.

    No one in the Labour leadership talks to you and you know that except you continue to write pure fiction which is sad really, but then again you have a massive brain cells deficiency.

  6. william morris says:

    Labour could stop this rot in its tracks if they could only find the courage to get rid of Ed Miliband, and maybe replace him with Andy Burnham. They are sleep walking, literally, to a catastrophe next May. I predict they could poll even less than 2010.

  7. 07052015 says:

    Sad stuff again from atul ,the plotters mouthpiece.

    The blairite winning strategy of targetting soft tories lead first to the rise of the libdems and now to ukip,the greens and the snp surges.

    Political strategies always have consequences and you need to adapt and move on as miliband is striving to do.

    We now have six party politics and a deeply alienated electorate sick of seven years of hard times and austerity.

    Time for a rethink atul .Sure peter and chuka will be thinking hard.

  8. A G Sloane says:

    As a minister in Milibands front bench said; he talks weird, he looks weird, he is weird.-, and as Maureen Lipman said Miliband.Chukka,Balls,and Burnam they all are a waste of space!

    God help us all if he slides into No.10.

  9. sackcloth and ashes says:

    ‘Goodness me, a 10K majority wiped out with a 3k UKIP majority and is great news for the Tories’.

    You just don’t get it, do you.

    Rochester and Strood (or Medway, or Rochester and Chatham, to use the constituency’s previous names) is the kind of seat Labour should be winning. It is a blue-collar constituency, it was Bob Marshall-Andrews’ seat between 1997 and 2010, and Labour held it between 1945-1951, 1964-1970, and 1974-1979.

    Labour should be competing for this seat, not coming a distant third.

    Do you need some more stats now? OK, here they come.

    In 1945, Arthur Bottomley won Chatham.
    In 1950, he held his seat at Rochester and Chatham.
    In 1959, he lost it to Julian Critchley (Conservative).
    In 1964, Anne Kerr got it back for Labour.
    In 1970, Peggy Fenner got in for the Tories.
    In 1974, Anne Kerr regained the seat.
    In 1979, Peggy Fenner won it again, and held it until Bob Marshall-Andrews won the seat in 1997.

    Do you need me to remind you of the significance of the dates?

    In every general election (save 1951 and 1955), the party that went on to win won Rochester and Chatham/Medway/Rochester and Strood. It is a bellwether constituency. It is one of those seats that can go either blue or red. If Labour has any hopes of actually winning in 2015, that is a target seat to fight for.

    And Labour came third.

    Spin that as you will. Tell us all that Ed Miliband is the best thing since sliced bread, and that it’s all some Blairite/Tory conspiracy that actually he’s as much use as marzipan body-armour.

    The fact is that Labour is failing to attract it’s core vote. And that is a massive problem.

  10. 07052015 says:

    Sackcloth the past and therefore your analysis is irrelevant -it was a two party world.Surely you can see things have changed .

    Miliband is trying to deal with the consequences of blair/brown ,cameron is wrestling with thatcherism .

    You can assert all you want that labour should be doing well in rochester but the voters arent listening.We dont need yesterdays men back.

  11. Tafia says:

    “The fact is that Labour is failing to attract it’s core vote. And that is a massive problem.”

    It has relied for ten years or more on it’s core vote being drones and just voting Labour because they always have, because their parents did and because their parents parents did. That has been crumbling for a while now but for reasons best known only to themselves, Labour continues to take their vote for granted and has dragged the party and it’s policies away from where those voters want it. Then it promptly sets about insulting those voters (the Labour Yes voters in Scotland, thise that voted UKIP in the europeans etc etc), then it belittles their opinions – opinions formed by those voters not on false perceptions but on the realities and experiences of their day-to-day life.

    It has become remote, detached, passionless, patronising and no longer represents the aspirations and desires of it’s core vote. The blue collar core likes the Prescott, Skinner, Cryer type personality and most definately has not got the time of day for the Islington Intelligentsia Guardian reading brigade such as Miliband, Umuna etc etc. Blair (despite the despicable little man’s faults) knew this hence his use of Prescott.

    If Burnham were to be moved to the Deputy Leader’s role and also replace Alexander, then his working class gruffness may just pull it back for Miliband – but other than that he’s bollocksed.

  12. ChrisB says:

    Would Thornberry have photoed a Jamaican flag and tweeted ‘Image from Brixton’ or a Pakistani flag and tweeted ‘Image from Bradford’? No and No. So why did she see anything remarkable about a house with English flags in England? Because she despises white working class people, the people on whose votes she still depends. That she is a multi-millionaire only highlights the fact that she is part of the minority in this country which benefits from cheap immigrant labour. The people she sneers at are the people who have seen their pay capped or even reduced by mass immigration.

    This is a wake-up call for Labour. Up to now the assumption is that the rise of UKIP will only help Labour by pushing the Tories into open civil war. There is now however the possibility that UKIP will shift to the left or at least become a very broad church with certain fundamental policies involving political reform that attract people from left to right.

    The 35% policy would be credible, were the electorate stable. It is not. The electorate is currently highly volatile. Labour is already ignoring the rise of the SNP post-referendum. An SNP domination of Scottish politics both at home and in Westminster will make independence within 10-20 years almost inevitable, as well as denying Labour their army of Scottish MPs, without whom Labour in its current form is unlikely ever again to win a national election.

    Labour will react by throwing more English money at the Scots, an act that will further enrage English voters across the political spectrum. Currently, LibLabCon assume that they can buy off the Scots with no repercussions south of the border. They are wrong – the only question is whether the issue raises its head during the 2015 election or afterwards.

    The English electorate are looking for a politician who challenges the transfer of more money to Scotland, who challenges the transfer of more power to the EU, who challenges neoliberal economic policy, who challenges the acceptance of mass immigration, who challenges the assumption that taxpayers have to bail out the banks, who challenges the sale of more and more of this country to foreigners. In short, the English electorate want their country back and they are prepared to listen to any politician who questions the LibLabCon conspiracy to deny the electorate a vote on the issues that concern them. That is why they are currently listening to Farage.

  13. wg says:

    Why does everybody blame Miliband – I ask this as a non-Labour voter.

    If you were to ask whether Labour members disagreed or agreed with his policies most would say that they agree with him.

    If Ed Miliband is at fault then maybe the whole of the present Labour party is also.

    For my part, a manual worker, I just see no connection with the Labour party at present – I saw the last Labour government as arrogant and authoritarian and its town hall bullies as just plain nasty.

    Political correctness that has made the established inhabitants of these islands feel like second class citizens, whipped up invasions of other countries, immigration that (I believe) was imposed to gerrymander our large cities to gain power for Labour, and, most importantly to me, was the ramming of the Lisbon Treaty down our throats.

    Labour, at present, are anti-democratic, reliant on the Third Sector NGOs and hijacked civic society bodies which they use to disrupt any attempt at recovery for their own political gain.

    People are not stupid – they see this.

  14. paul barker says:

    Historically, Opposition Parties generally lose between 3 & 13% in Vote share in the last 6 Months before a General Election. Lets take the middle of that range, a loss of 8%. Thats 8% from an average of 33% which gives 25%. Given that The Tories will also be down by 5% Labour could handle a result like that if you had spent the last 4 Years being realistic, but you didnt.
    Labour are just starting to wake up from Dreams of Victory to the probable reality of your worst result in a Century. Its going to hurt & that explains the obsession with Milliband. The alternative is looking in the mirror.

  15. John. P Reid says:

    Paul barker, the reason Labour chose miliband was to avoid splits, as someone who didn’t support david Miliband at all, I have to say labour didn’t chose Ed miliband, the unions did, OK the unions are part of the labour movement,

    crapeditor, saying the Tories had their overall majority destroyed at the by election, doesnt deflect away from the fact labours vote fell by 14%’ so if the Tory loss. Did by a long shot mean ,labour won the election we wouldn’t have a moral right to gvern on 30% of the vote.

    07052015 o.k you don’t want Labour voters who think Eds not doing a good job to criticise him, if labour lose will you accpet it,or will you blame everyone on the right of thee party,not accept their advice and say that ,Blairites undermined and ,they cost us the election

  16. Bill says:

    Why are you so keen for the Tories to sack Cameron? Whoever replaces him is likely to be better than him – surely that would be BAD for Labour?

  17. twinkle says:

    The bookies now have it that a likely outcome is a coalition between UKIP and the Conservatives and that a BREXIT is very likely together with Scotland becoming independent. Amazing stuff if true

  18. swatantra says:

    Milliband’s just lost it, completely.

  19. Can someone explain the Thornberry thing to me?

    Yes, she dug herself into a hole and yes she didn’t explain herself very well. But there’s nothing there that’s and patronising or downright offensive as some of the things that have been reported to have tripped out of the mouths of “Scottish” Labour politicians during the referendum campaign.

    Does anyone remember Ian Davidson’s comments about the only thing to be done after the referendum will be to bayonett the wounded. Does anyone remember the refusal to acknowledge that “Labour” voters might be voting “Yes” and the derision poured upon the “Labour for Independence” movement, or the attempt by a Glasgow branch office to remove office bearers because they voted “Yes”.

    The point is that no one remembers Labour being venemous to it’s Scottish Voters, yet because Thornburry was inadvertently disrespectful to people who may or may not be Labour voters… now this issue arises.

    BTW, I could have told you in 2012 that Labour would not win in 2015. Did you take note?

  20. Weygand says:

    The problem is that London and its metropolitan vision (as it always has) dominates politics and the media while (as always) the further geographically one is from the capital the less people share the same experiences or analyses (and whether it is because they are white van morons or down to earth pragmatists is irrelevant).
    In the past such domination was accepted as un fait accompli but now the change of mentality of the modern internet age, where one can purchase whatever one wants online, express oneself online (even while hiding behind a pseudonym) has put an end to the acceptance of that power relationship.
    The vote of a a white van man counts the same as that of a Thornberry.
    Hence the rise of the Scot Nats and UKIP.
    The nation as a whole has become acclimatised to a consumer society and if Lab and Con don’t provide their customers with what they want, they (like Tescos and Sainsburys) will face the political effect equivalent to Aldi and Lidl.

  21. Madasafish says:

    I rarely read the Daily Express but their YOUGOV poll this morning is interesting:
    The YouGov survey also found that nearly three times as many of those asked thought the UK Independence Party leader would be the best Prime Minister compared with Labour’s Ed Miliband.

    The findings, which had 38 per cent of those surveyed backing the Tories, 28 per cent Ukip and 25 per cent Labour, came after former Tory MP Mark Reckless became Ukip’s second elected MP in the Rochester and Strood by-election.


    It may just be a one off: but as the Labour share has been dropping for moths… see chart http://tinyurl.com/mpcpux8 ….it may be a foretaste of things to come.

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