Ed needs to earn the public’s respect

by Kevin Meagher

The key to a successful political coup, as Mrs. Beeton would probably have pointed out if she wrote about politics instead of household management, is “first find your assassin”. Labour’s chatterers and plotters are as reluctant as ever to plunge the knife. Hands tremble on the hilt. MPs turn to pacifists when it comes to matters of political murder.

Next, find your replacement. Attempts to press-gang Alan Johnson as an alternative to Ed Miliband amounted to nothing. It was lazy, wishful thinking that he would even entertain the idea. As one of our more human politicians, Johnson knows only too well that you need to be crazy to want to lead a political party and, if you’re not, you’ll soon be driven crazy by trying to lead one.

And, so, here we are. Ed Miliband is weakened by cack-handed internal attacks, but remains in situ – and will do until the result of the 2015 general election is settled. But what has this last week been about?

Unlike most other flare-ups in Labour history, it hasn’t been about policy. Slow and sometimes incoherent, policy development under Ed Miliband has thrown up many interesting ideas and a few genuinely head-turning policies. This is not 1983. Labour is not a lost cause ripping itself apart because of pledges to pull out of Europe, scrap our nukes or nationalise the top 100 companies.

No, this is personal. Miliband’s own performance was the reason for this week’s failed putsch. In moving forward, it is important that he and his team accept this. Many MPs and party figures, spooked by the yawning deficits around leadership and economic credibility, wonder how election victory is possible against such a backdrop.  (Add in jitters about Scotland, UKIP and even the rise of the Greens and the mood quickly becomes febrile). Frankly, he should have been expecting trouble.

Many also cite his inconsistent performances. Again, lessons need to be learned here. How on earth do you make a set-piece conference speech and “forget” to mention immigration and the deficit – the two defining issues of our contemporary political debate? It was unforgivably stupid. (He should have made a second speech closing the party conference and rectified the mistake).

Then there are those who think their leader has a tin ear when it comes to courting swing voters in Middle England. Or those who say the same of him when it comes to working class voters in the party’s heartlands. Others are worried about the lack of support coming from the business community. Or southern voters.  Or even, now, Scots.

Yet, bridging the gap between these imponderables is what leadership is all about. Becoming more than the sum of the parts. Transcending conflicting demands and shaping the future through skill, eloquence, charm and sheer brute power. This is where Miliband is failing. He needs to be more instinctive. Quicker. Braver. Can he do it?

The British public is a brutal jury. They’ don’t dislike Ed Miliband, but they don’t respect him.  This is the harsh truth and the real problem. They wonder if a man who can’t even eat a bacon butty is up to being prime minister. They question why anyone can like baseball. Why you would make a big thing about taking paternity leave, but not sign your own kids’ birth certificates? And why you would ever end up in a death match with your own brother over a job?

These are just some of the observations I’ve had played back to me by non-political friends in recent days. There are basic expectations that people – and MPs – demand from their leaders and it is time for Miliband to start delivering on them. One thing is clear: “Let Ed be Ed” has been a counsel of despair. An invitation to dwell in his comfort-zone.

He now needs to get out there and earn the public’s respect. He can start by embracing this week’s turmoil and channelling it. He needs to become more consistent in his public performances. Sharpen-up his decision-making. Become more decisive, more assertive. Speak plainly. Build a better rapport with his unloved backbenchers. And trust his frontbenchers more.

Yes, Ed Miliband has an extremely difficult hand to play in juggling the fissiparous elements within the Labour family. (Indeed, much more so than many of his casual critics understand). But that’s the job. The difficult inheritance he accepted – and fought for – back in 2010.

And, so, despite an appalling week, Labour is still in the game. Yet, the brand is more popular than the leader. This needs to change, but only Ed Miliband can now fix that.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

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13 Responses to “Ed needs to earn the public’s respect”

  1. Tafia says:

    Ed needs to earn the public’s respect

    Before worrying about the public, he needs to win the respect of the fast diminishing core vote – and he will only do that with policies they want whether he or middle England like them or not.

    If he doesn’t serve the purpose of the blue-collar core then he doesn’t actually serve any purpose at all.

  2. swatantra says:

    The fact is success came too early for EdM. I liken it to the Hague phenonoma.
    The Tories desparately sought someone young fresh and untainted after their worst defeat ever and went for Hague; seemed the perfect choice, bluff and good humoured and a Yorkshire man.
    But he simply didn’t have the experience and nous, and went on to lose the GE. Hague was ridiculed and called a Mekon; weird, in the same way as Ed.
    But funnily enough 20 years later and more experienced, he’s grown into a politician of stature; people actually like him, even though they hate his politics.
    Whatever makeover you give EdM, you won’t change him; only time will do that. Maybe in 20 years time; maybe not.

  3. paul barker says:

    Missing the point, its not Ed thats the problem, its Labour. Both Tories & Labour have built their identities around not being each other & moving into an era of Multi-Party Politics thats not enough anymore. There are lots of Not-Tory (& Not-Labour) choices out there. While The Tories seem to have reached bottom Labours vote still seems to be in slow decline.
    I would expect another Crisis in a week or three.

  4. Landless Peasant says:

    “This is not 1983”

    More’s the pity. That was the last time I voted for Labour.

  5. 07052015 says:

    Its becoming a national sport -bullying.So much for british fair play dont ya know old chap.

    Trolling,social media,internet sites for kids,reality tv,comedians of every hue etc etc have all given the bully more weapons to spread their poison.

    But in politics the tory gang of four newspapers have always targetted the labour leader -attlee,wilson,callaghan,foot,kinnock ,brown -only blair escaped tho they tried with bambi etc.

    You say something over and over again and it seeps into public attitudes.A silly example morecambe and wise watched by 20 million plus viewers slagged des oconnor off every week.Much to their discredit everyone laughed tho and nobody knew why.

    If you have ever been bullied you know what has to be done -stand up for yourself and give it back.Alls fair in love and war.

    Osbornes mouthpiece Janan Ganesh in the FT yesterday saying the tories will resume the onslaught in january.

    “An opposition party …..by flapping around because of a largely imaginary manoeuvre against the leader only invites voters to wonder what the party would be like in a crisis.Nothing about Labours behaviour over the past week augurs well.Coming their way is stress ,lots of it,and it is no longer a test.”

    So anyone up for a fight ?

  6. BenM says:

    @paul barker

    Labour’s fall in the polls has halted somewhat and is still above the Tory polling share.

    Both parties are struggling in this new era as you rightly say, but on closer inspection it is the Tories in more terminal decline than the Labour Party right now.

    In likeability polls the Tories always trail Labour. It’s a weakness that Cameron helps to paper over. Without him though the Tories are finished.

  7. Colin Moulder says:

    You say Milliband needs to earn the respect of the electorate. Surely he needs to earn the respect of his MPs first, who clearly do not respet him and did not vote for him.

  8. Madasafish says:

    > 07052015
    Complaining about bullying in politics? Really.> Perhaps you should recall a certain McBride who did rather worse than simple bullying.
    And a certain Mr Alastair John Campbell who excelled at it.
    Pots and kettles..

    As for Ed, it’s not he’s unlikeable. It’s just he appears to live in a different world from us mortals and speaks like it as well. He does manage to connect on certain issues but it’s all very well to connect, but – for example – how is Ed going to make the ” squeezed middle ”
    feel richer?

    There are few tangible policies – with the exception of an energy price freeze – which will. And of course energy prices are falling in case you had not noticed.. so a price freeze is hardly appropriate at present.

    And unemployment continues to fall. Eventually the supply of cheap domestic labour will reduce and the price of labour rise – IF immigration is controlled.

    As for the Opinion Polls, the trends are one way only.. Just look at the charts..

  9. 07052015 says:

    Daft as a haddock lets see what the polls look like after Rochester and do you think there will be another defection before xmas ?If so how long before a permanent split on the right.Labour has lost votes to greens,snp and ukip not the tories.

    Campbell,whelan,mandelson and mad dog were essential for labour to get a fair deal from the press .They were a consequence of the bias and my heart bleeds for those fair minded hacks who had to deal with them.

    Yes unemployment falls-good but too many low paid part time jobs .

  10. Michael says:

    I would help if he could give some polices eg

    welfare reform – other than the bedroom tax to remove perverse incentives to working
    Non EU immigration- As this is in the governments power to change
    NHS – reform, as pumping in 2.5bn will not be enough to save it

  11. Madasafish says:


    I have no idea if there will me any more Tory defections to UKIP. I suspect Nigel Farage’s interview where he stated he would happily form an alliance with Labour (!) might dissuade some…

    Ed’s personal ratings are now worse than the worst of recent times (Michael Foot) so I suspect that rules him out of ever becoming PM.. Voting in a GE concentrates voters’ minds unlike by-elections where often there are protest votes.. See how the SDP vote collapsed in the 1980s.

    It’s about time the Minimum Wage was raised to a higher level and Working Tax credits abolished. The impact on personal morale of those working would be tremendous (less stress), and the savings to the Government large (£24B cost a year). It will take years though.

  12. e says:

    I think it’s unforgivably stupid of you to keep with your twenty year old blinkers.

    Immigration and the deficit are not defining issues. They’re, post the crash, issues that are being used to frame debate. Thus uninformed journalists have no need to become informed. Framed debates allow the brains of voters and average commentators to be overwhelmed with relative ease. Journalists swoop in from on high to denounce any politician who should slip past the confines, and all following commentators can then line up to nod yes, yes, this is a problem…this is The Problem.

    Your non political friends: did they come to their informed responsible conclusions via the offerings of respected ‘English’ journalism by chance? Or did they just happen upon sight of unflattering pictures, ‘knowledge’ of private personal information (juxtaposing this against support for paternity leave) and good-grief, sporting preferences that don’t include cricket?

  13. Landless Peasant says:

    “Ed needs to earn the public’s respect”

    All he has to do in order to do that is stand up to the Tory scum and come up with some proper Socialist policies that we can vote for. He lived up to his nick name of ‘Red Ed’ he would gain that respect, and votes. BUT we won’t vote for Blue Labour aka Tory Lite.

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