Prepare for the joke prime minister

“There’s poison in the Shadow Cabinet,” says Isabel Hardman in The Spectator’s Coffee House blog.

Some shadow ministers are briefing that their leader, Ed Miliband, is “weird” and that the Labour party may lose the next general election. These shadow ministers “seem more interested in what happens after the 2015 election than in their party’s chances in that election”. Once politicians get into this mindset, talk of election defeat can become “a self-fulfilling prophecy”.

The Guardian, meanwhile, reports the comments of one ex-minister – that Miliband had been seen as a reformer in the mould of Neil Kinnock, but “people are now increasingly thinking he is Iain Duncan Smith”.

This latest round of Labour party soul-searching, and the comparison with the former Tory leader, has been triggered partly by poor polling data. Labour “is still ahead in most polls, albeit narrowly and with the trend edging in the wrong direction”, observes The Guardian, but the poll results for Miliband personally are far worse. In a YouGov poll, 60% of voters say he isn’t up to the job of prime minister, while 49% think Labour should ditch Miliband before the next election, according to Ipsos MORI.

But dumping a leader is easier said than done, as Andrew Rawnsley inThe Observer notes. “Poll after poll suggests that Labour has an ‘Ed Miliband problem’, but I search in vain to find someone around him with a clear idea about how it might be solved.” And a lot of the criticisms are unfair: “He’s the leader of a political party. By definition, he’s weird. You have to be bloody peculiar to join a political party these days, never mind to lead one. Margaret Thatcher was extremely weird. So, in a different way, was Tony Blair. That didn’t stop either of them winning three elections in a row.”

Miliband has done a better job as party leader than he’s often credited with, says Matthew D’Ancona in The Sunday Telegraph. “One of Miliband’s most impressive achievements has been to prevent a Labour civil war: an internal tribal conflict I have believed inevitable since 2006.” However, “for all his amiability and undoubted brainpower, Ed has neither the countenance or bearing of a 21st-century leader, at ease on the over-lit stage of modern politics”. He is unable to “master the ephemeral tradecraft of the celebrity age”.

It’s certainly damning that a big Labour policy launch last week was entirely unable “to cut through” the debate on his leadership abilities, notes James Forsyth in the Coffee House blog. Miliband announced that young unemployed people who refuse to take training courses could lose benefits under a Labour government, but the announcement failed to draw press attention away from him and onto his party’s policies.

But don’t speak too soon, says Stephen Pollard in the Daily Mail. The parliamentary arithmetic still indicates that “Cameron faces the electoral equivalent of climbing Everest with a back-pack full of rocks, while Miliband has a walk in the park”. For all that Miliband “may be a joke opposition leader”, there is every chance “he may become a joke prime minister”.


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