It’s not all Ed’s fault

by Kevin Meagher

If things had gone differently, Ed Miliband would now be enjoying a well-earned holiday somewhere hot, eagerly pursued by a retinue of security officers and sweaty officials, planning his first Labour conference speech as Prime Minister.

Perhaps, in a parallel universe, that’s precisely where he is, sat at a poolside table in his best long shorts and polo shirt, making awkward small talk with Justine as his sips a non-alcoholic cocktail and laughs nervously for the obligatory photo opportunity.

But it was not to be in this universe.

Instead, Miliband is an election loser. A fallen prophet. The man who broke the Labour party. Marked, forever, as a failure. Johnny No-Mates.

Par for the course, perhaps, when you fail to win what seemed an eminently winnable election, but just as Miliband’s reputation must sink with the ship, so, too, must others who are just as much to blame for Labour’s defeat. The cast of villains does not begin and end with Edward Samuel Miliband.

He was led astray by the polls, we know that much for certain, but that’s only part of the story. The groupthink of his supporters, the hubris, that, despite Miliband’s uninspiring performance and the voters more granular worries about the party’s trustworthiness and competence, especially on the economy, victory seemed, if not inevitable, then highly likely.

How could the government that gave us the bedroom tax, benefit cuts, tuition fees and austerity possibly then win an election? Quite easily, it now seems. So Labour’s strategy of holding what it had in 2010, with the addition of enough Lib Dem dissenters to push it over the 35 per cent line in a three or four party race, was disastrously complacent. How could so many clever people have got things so badly wrong?

If the plan had succeeded, all the talk would now be of how Labour could win without the need to ingratiate itself with Middle England. A principled, centre-left, election-winning Labour party would have been born.  But it was always illusory. The polls, like the magic mirror in Snow White, told the Milibandites what they wanted to hear.

The palpable anger since May’s defeat, all the more noticeable on the usually docile right of the party, was the realisation that nothing fundamentally changes in human nature and wary voters will always hunker down and opt for the devil they know.  Just like 1992, Labour was caught with a sucker punch. It’s always the economy, stupid.

Was Labour ever truly ahead in the polls? If so, where, exactly, did it lose the public? Was there a deep, tectonic fear that Miliband was weak and unreliable that eventually surfaced close to polling day, shaken loose by talk of the SNP holding him to ransom?

So the polls dulled the critical faculties of his entourage and led to their disastrous strategy. A weak and, frankly, lazy shadow cabinet then compounded his problems. The task for Miliband’s successor is to recruit grown-ups to important jobs and to sack half the current frontbench.

Indeed, the crucial failing, around economic credibility, was a joint-responsibility. Ed Balls was just as much to blame. Despite his intelligence and experience, he made a total hash of being shadow chancellor. Miliband should have moved him long before it was painfully apparent that the party was a million miles behind the Tories on economic trust.

If he had shown an ounce of self-awareness, Balls would have volunteered for a transfer himself, but everyone in the Mili-bubble was so utterly convinced that government awaited. So a man as ambitious as Balls would never forgo the chance to return to the Treasury without a scrap. And Miliband just didn’t have the fight in him.

But Balls was just one member of an underperforming shadow cabinet that was unwilling to challenge the general air of unreality surrounding Miliband and his entourage. While Andy Burnham, Caroline Flint and Yvette Cooper distinguished themselves as effective opposition players, it’s hard to say the same about people like Hilary Benn, who just seemed to be marking time.

Meanwhile Miliband’s one-time protégé, Chuka Umunna, seemed to make little impression on the captains of industry as shadow business secretary, so much so, that the party had an empty cupboard where once there would have been a retinue of business leaders willing to endorse the party. If Labour became “anti-business” under Miliband, what was Umunna doing to rectify this? Not a lot, it seems.

So this was a collective failure. “Joint enterprise” as they would say in court. A naïve leader, an echo chamber cohort and ineffective senior colleagues. So it’s a metaphorical Siberian salt mine for the real Ed Miliband, but if there’s any justice, he should have plenty company down there.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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12 Responses to “It’s not all Ed’s fault”

  1. John P Reid says:

    No one ever said it was his fault, but look at the state we’re in now.

    The cash for peerages allegations meant Blairs last year we couldn’t get decent donations, then brown wasted the election that never was 3m, more down the drain, hen Ed never does any fundraising, were in cahoots to Paul Kenny,who wanted a magazine and those of the right of the party expelled,so he gets a Knighthood. And Len Mcklusky who pays union people’s me,bet ship of the party in return for a say in policies, and then when the public reject those policies, Mklusky doesn’t accept its his fault, what are they doing now ,having non members, decide the new leader.

  2. Tafia says:

    Half of his own Shadow Cabinet along with senior back-benchers and grandees openly underminimg him didn’t help either.

    Speaking of which, I see that Burnham has publicly jumped on Cooper for jumping on Corbyn.

    That smacks of opportunism – it suggests Burnham thinks that Corbyn will win, and that being as Cooper has already publicly stated that there is no way she will serve on a Shadow Cabinet under him, Burnham fancies his chances as Shadow Home.

  3. swatantra says:

    One look at EdM would have convinced anyone with any common sense that he was a born loser. EdM was always going to be the back room boy who made the tea and brought in the sandwiches; there was very little leadership qualities that stood out.
    He only got where he was through connections and not through merit.

  4. Adam Gray says:

    Sorry, but you haven’t really shown how any of this isn’t Ed’s fault.

    And you’ve barely scratched the surface of his culpability: far more catastrophic and long-term than his five years of risible non-leadership was his decision to reopen the hellmouth and hang out the bunting to welcome back in the Trots, the headbangers, the no-lifes, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, the Marxists and the Militants.

    However, let’s just stick with the terms of your piece, Kevin. You claim the shadow cabinet shoulders the blame. Who appointed the shadow cabinet? Who had a free hand to appoint these non-existent betters waiting in the wings to take over from the Hains and Benns of this world yet chose not to?

    I hold no candle for Chuka Umunna but if you have a party leader telling businessmen that they’re capitalist scum who should be taxed to oblivion, what precisely do you propose his business spokesman does to counter that? Call his leader a liar in public? Launch an entirely counter strategy without clearing it beforehand? We’ve heard from Mary Creagh what happened when she tried to build bridges with bus companies to provide better public transport: she was told that working with business was not the party’s agenda: much more lucrative to castigate private bus companies instead.

    Ed and his daft bunch of smug know-it-all academics chose the message. They chose to tell the fringe that they were absolutely right to hate Tony Blair; that Labour’s record in government was an abomination; that the party could win with non-voters and Liberal luvvies; that the electorate had moved to the left and that all Labour needed to do was get more of its noisy, insane, offensive and immature twitterati out to vote. They even convinced themselves they were radicals!

    Ed was wrong on the politics.
    He was wrong on the policy.
    He was wrong on the presentation
    He was wrong on who he surrounded himself with.
    He was wrong on who he aimed the party at.
    He was wrong on who he turned the party against.
    He was wrong on who he opened the party up to.

    All that said, I agree with you: he wasn’t ultimately to blame. No: the blame lies with every single person who voted to make him leader.

  5. MacGuffin says:

    I agree with Adam Gray’s comment above.

    In particular, I thought the remark about Chukka Umunna was a very cheap shot. What on earth was he supposed to do to repair relations with business when his leader treated them with open hostility?

  6. Martin Palmer says:

    “Ed Miliband would now be enjoying a well-earned holiday… …planning his first Labour conference speech as Prime Minister.”
    That’s why he wasn’t elected, he was too wonkish and the kind who’d waste a holiday drafting a speech only to forget parts of it on the day. Nobody warms to an Oxbridge spadocrat.

    Milliband was never the best person to lead the party? Now I can forgive those who were fooled during the leadership campaign but once we knew he was a turkey then, 2 years out from the general election, he should have been asked to step aside. Only nobody had the courage to do this. It’s here that we have the collective failure, a spineless Shad Cab that sat on its hands rather act. We’re all paying the price.

  7. John Slinger says:


    An excellent oped. I’d take issue with the bit about Chuka though. It seemed to me that he went out of his way to build bridges to the business community throughout the time he was Shadow BIS Secretary. He, above all others, made an effort. The problem, to my mind, was that so few other leading Labour shadow ministers thought that being pro-business was an important part of building a winning coalition of support for the general election.

    Best wishes,


  8. Michael Worcester says:

    The election was lost on leadership (Miliband), Economy (Balls), immigration (Cooper/Vaz) and not won on the NHS (Burnham). At least Corbyn and Kendall are not tainted by the Brown years.

  9. AnneJGP says:

    Well, I’m not a Labour party member and I was one of those who expected the GE to return a Labour government; but only because I thought the Labour brand was enough to carry it over the threshold after the Coalition government. So I thought that whatever leader Labour put up would be Prime Minister regardless of how fitted he or she appeared.

    I have to admit, I’m rather glad I was wrong, because after the 2010 GE I felt that the party had ducked the hard questions and hadn’t made best use of the defeat. I find the way the present leadership election is going rather frightening for the country’s immediate future (all governments need a good opposition). It’s not just the way Mr Corbyn’s ideas haven’t developed since the 70’s; none of the candidates really seem to be true leadership material.

    However I’m hopeful that over the next 10 years or so, fresh people with fresh approaches & ideas will bring a fresh start. I do believe that the Labour party’s ethos & principles need to be examined from scratch to re-cast them in today’s (or rather tomorrow’s) terms. It may be that the present threat/promise of virtual civil war between the two extremes of opinion in the Labour party will be the crucible that enables that to happen.

  10. Bob Crossley says:

    So, having decided – again – who was to blame, what is to be done?

    The only concrete proposal here appears to be “sack half the Shadow Cabinet”. Well, I imagine the Corbster might grant you your wish, though probably not the half you’d choose.

    Your faction is strong on ideology and analysis and the dogmatic condemnation of opponents, but it’s weak on leadership, membership and the pragmatic recruitment of the like-minded. As Liz’s patently failed campaign has amply demonstrated, you are degenerating into a sect. If the right of the party is ever to take a lead in the party again, and it must, it cannot do so on the basis of 1997 nostalgia laced with factional invective.

  11. John Stone says:

    Miliband led a party whose entire strategy for GE2015 was wrong. Essentially, say nothing and hope that the election would fall in their lap. For five years people like me howled at Miliband and Balls to oppose. But the silence was palpable. The strategy was a failure and the people delivering it were clueless. That was down to the leader.

  12. swatantra says:

    It was ALL Ed’s fault. And growing a beard won’t disguise or hide the fact the fact.
    Ed simply was not up to it; nor was David; nor was Chukka. Since the odds are that Labour won’t win in 2020, we need a long hard look at ourselves. And I’d question our Values and Principles as well. The use of ‘weak and vulnerable and desparate ‘ has been overdone. The Calais Migrants have brought it home to me, that maybe we are fighting for the wrong people and the wrong battles.

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