Political Promise

Use your Ed

In Andrew Forsey on December 9, 2010 at 12:24 pm

The Labour leader needs to act fast, or face the consequences in 2015, says Andrew Forsey.

Scrapping EMA; Sure Start under threat; economic slowdown; deep cuts to frontline policing; GPs and nurses opposing NHS reforms; flawed immigration promises; total withdrawal of the School Sports Partnerships funding; Liz kicked out of The Apprentice… there is certainly no shortage of ammunition for Labour to attack the Coalition with at the moment.

Indeed, many of these developments strike right to the heart of what the Labour Party stands for, and should therefore inevitably draw a genuinely sincere, passionate opposition from the ‘people’s party’. Yet these open goals seem to be sailing harmlessly into the abyss, as Ed Miliband instead picks fights with Cameron over issues that many ‘core’ and ‘swing’ voters will naturally side with the Coalition. In the case of the imminent rise in tuition fees, for example, Miliband needs to offer credible, genuine and passionate opposition; yet, as a Labour supporter, I am dismayed to hear our leader repeatedly appear as an opportunist with no credible alternative to Cameron’s surefootedness (and Clegg’s turncoatedness). After an encouraging start, Miliband now provides the impression of having no driving force behind his politics, lacking any sense of charisma or leadership skills, and not acting on behalf of those hard-working families who will suffer most from the government’s actions. This can only serve to exacerbate the unfortunate perception of Miliband as a puppet of the unions, leading a rudderless, out of touch party, against a government that is operating as it does because there is ‘no alternative’.

Whilst it is highly encouraging to see the likes of Ed Balls and Andy Burnham provide effective opposition, it is equally dismaying to observe the Labour leader repeatedly oppose in a way that can be easily dismissed as ‘opportunist’, ‘lightweight’, or for opposition’s sake. Whilst Miliband’s supporters may argue that Opposition will be a marathon rather than a sprint, I worry that by 2015 people will have stopped listening to what Miliband, and therefore Labour, has to say.  

Miliband needs to grab the voters’ attention and communicate a believable narrative of events that they can consume and understand, as opposed to Cameron’s prevailing fairytale involving ‘Labour’s profligacy’ et al. In examining the results of the 2010 election, it is clear that once voters had stopped listening to a discredited, impersonal Gordon Brown, Labour had no chance of winning. Therefore, it is vital that Miliband takes a principled stand on issues such as EMA, Sure Start and policing that strikes the chord of fairness with a majority of hard-working people, or his coveted ‘squeezed middle’, rather than allowing himself to be portrayed as the weak opportunist with no guiding principles.

It is crucial for Labour to construct a new-found credibility as a party of government by 2015, and this can only be achieved by a leader who appears genuinely aware of issues that matter to people’s everyday lives. Meanwhile, he needs to be able to exploit those pillars of Tory policy which provided their electoral appeal at the 2010 election: Cameron’s coveted immigration cap has been denounced, discredited and adjusted; Osborne’s economic policies will have a negative impact on growth from 2011; Theresa May is taking tens of thousands of police officers off the street after Labour had cut crime by a third; and Michael Gove…well, where to start? There are so many messages here that Labour can and should be broadcasting to the electorate in a loud, passionate way, armed with a credible alternative, that would undoubtedly get people listening again, and would heap public scrutiny upon the Coalition which, for now, appears to be framing and winning the broader argument.

Is Ed Miliband playing by the general rules of Opposition? Yes. Does he have time to develop as a leader, and frame his own unique thoughts and policies? Undoubtedly. Are Labour still in the game? Of course. So what is all the fuss about?

After subscribing to the notion that voters had ‘stopped listening’ because ‘we were out of touch’ by the twilight years of Government, Labour now needs to communicate a convincing narrative on issues that matter most to people, whilst exploiting certain hollow aspects of the Coalition’s narrative, before people give up on Labour altogether.

Now is the time for ‘red Ed’ to become ‘our Ed’ in the eyes of the electorate, or ‘call me Dave’ will have it all too easy by the time Britain next go to the polls.

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  1. […] last article, Use your Ed, was laced with frustration and anxiety over the general performance of Ed Miliband in his first […]

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