Wanted: a Labour government with a Tory PM

by David Talbot

“Poll gives Labour lead of 15 points over Tories” thundered the front page of the Times. The only reliability about polls is that they are inherently unreliable. But here was tangible evidence, at the first glance, that the voters are seriously thinking about putting Ed Miliband in Downing Street – and with a thumping majority at that.

But dig a little deeper and the poll unearths some visibly disheartening results for the Labour leader. The Labour party might be a full fifteen points ahead of those dastardly Tories, but its leader remains a detriment to the ticket.

The poll, and subsequent polls at that, finds a clear and rising majority of the great British people who would prefer David Cameron in Downing Street over the Labour leader. When forced to choose between the two leaders, 31 per cent want Miliband to replace Cameron. However, a rather eye-watering 60 per cent want Cameron to stay in Downing Street and, particularly painfully for Miliband, the other 37 per cent say they are dissatisfied with the job the prime minister is doing, but still prefer him to Miliband.

Miliband’s personal ratings are dire. There truly is no way to skirt round this issue any longer.

The top five “qualities” listed for Ed Miliband were given as: “out of his depth”, then “weak”, “out of touch” and “indecisive”. The fifth most chosen attribute was “weird”. If those are his qualities, the list of his weaknesses must be frightful. It will be interesting to see how the much-fabled, and oft quoted, “party strategists” smooth out this manifest concerns.

The ironic conclusion is that, as John Rentoul pointed out from his eagle-eyed perch, the British public want a Labour government, but with a Conservative prime minister. It’s easy to see why. British politics has a sweet spot. It is found by combining fiscal conservatism with a tough stance on law and order and a programme of public service reform. It’s Labour compassion with Tory toughness.

Election after election, though with notable anomalies, the electorate seeks out the party that comes closest to a combination of Conservative stolidity and Labour compassion. In 1997 and 2001, Labour got it right. In 2010 neither party convinced the people they were in the right place, so the electorate conceived a coalition as if to remind the political classes just who is in charge.

David Cameron remains the Conservatives’ best electoral asset. The wild talk of his assassination is, from an objective point of view, difficult to fathom. His qualities are the qualities the British people want in a political leader. It just so happens to be that the party he leads is currently unpopular, but it is by no means terminal.

For Miliband the flurry of polls in the run up to conference with comfortable headline leads will placate some, and please many. These poll leads may rack up, but they are in danger of masking the weaknesses of our leader which, left unrectified in the second half of this parliament, will surely be too late.

It was, and still is, easy to be emotionally sceptical about New Labour but rationally accepting of it. Blair echoed what Britain thought for the best part of a decade. And to save the bandwidth, no, he wasn’t the Conservative leader many of in our ranks seem to think he was. He espoused leadership qualities the British electorate must readily identified with Conservative party leaders – which they have systematically elected over Labour leaders in our history of governance.

In their eternal wisdom, the British electorate are saying that whilst they would vote Miliband’s party into government, they don’t want him as the prime minister. Voters will seemingly tolerate Cameron’s aloof smugness, as detailed in the poll, because they recognise he has far superior “prime minsterial qualities” than Mr Miliband. Unless the Labour leader’s ratings improve, the poll leads will fade and another hung parliament looms. British politics has always retained elements from the left combined with features of the right, and it is this combination which offers the best path to power.

David Talbot is a political consultant

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6 Responses to “Wanted: a Labour government with a Tory PM”

  1. swatantra says:

    Not suggestting we invite Blair back I hope?
    In 1931 we had a Labour PM and a Conservative Govt to deal with that Economic Crisis caused by the collapse of Capitalsm.
    When countries get into this kind of pickle the best solution is to suspend hostilities and form a Govt of Natiional Unity. Germay did it with a grand Coalition in the 70’s with Willy Brandt and it worked quite well. We ourselves had a Wartime Coalition which worked extremely well. So its not a bad idea a Labour PM and a Cabinet of All Talents. There are areas of Policy that must require concensus like Social Care Education Policing and Immigration Housing … in fact the list is endless. Without that consensus we are simply wasting time and energy squabbling amongst ourselves while other countries outstrip us.

  2. paul barker says:

    Their is another explanation, that beneath the surface nothing has changed. In 2010 the coalition, led by cameron got 61% of the vote, eerily similar to the 60% he gets in the poll quoted.
    Similarly labour with 30% in 2010 & milliband with 31% now.

    The voters havent changed their minds because they dont want to think seriously about politics & theres no need to. We may get excited about polls, by-elections & the local but the voters dont.
    Voters will make up their minds in spring 2015 & till then all predictions are just guessing.

  3. john p reid says:

    swatantra, you beat me to it,

  4. Amber Star says:

    Unless the Labour leader’s ratings improve, the poll leads will fade and another hung parliament looms.
    @ David Talbot

    Why do you bother reading the opinion polls? You clearly prefer to invent your own story about what people’s opinions should be.

    Using Populus’s methods, Labour have a 15 point lead with Ed Miliband as PM ‘priced in’.

    Why don’t you think that the public will do exactly what they say they will – i.e. vote Labour & then feel sorry for Cameron as he leaves Downing Street? Great guy, they’ll think. He had all the qualities we’d like in a Prime Minister, what a pity his team & his Party were so crap we simply felt we had to vote for the other guy.

    See what I did there, David? I made up a story about how the electorate might think. Which is exactly what you did…. except my story actually fits with the polling facts whereas yours doesn’t.

  5. james says:

    @amber star – you really believe that. Wow! Join the vicar for tea and biscuits as his special guest – you have said the right words!

    Let’s be clear – the only reason the 45% is there is because Labour haven’t got any policies and are (like 90s style LDs) `all things to all people`. Once they have decided on the course to take you’ll see those numbers fall. In times like this Labour should be on 60%.

    The real issue is whether people think that Government is doing all that it can practically do and that compared to Labour it would be the best of a bad lot.

  6. Mike Homfray says:

    Why should Labour be on 60%?

    Conservative voters are getting what they voted for – and have largely not been hit by the austerity drive which largely affects Labour voters, who are more likely to use public services or work in the public sector. Labour areas have been hit much harder than the leafy Tory shires.

    Tory voters are largely sticking with the party because they agree with what they are doing.

    Labour have gained some votes from the LibDems, some have returned from non-voting, but we aren’t going to win many from the Tories.

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