As Leader of the Opposition you only have a couple of choices, depending on what you inherit. You can either sit on your backside, making vague promises of future policy, whilst the incumbents make a sorry mess of things. Or you can take your party and shake it till it screams in an attempt to say, ‘Hey, we’re not the same party as last time. Honest.’
But the more successful do a bit of both. First shake it up, and then sit and wait. Blair had his Clause 4 purging and inexorable move to the center. Cameron had his famous detox: nasty party to huskie-hugging. And then Blair sat and watched Major drown in sleaze and bastards (John’s words, not mine). Cameron watched Brown throw things.
The idea being that your victory is seen as an inevitability, and everyone loves to support a winner, thereby increasing the inevitability. (It must be added here that Cameron/Osborne ballsed it up when it was theirs for the taking, being more than a bit complacent allowing for the unnecessary TV debates and that very strange phenomena: Clegg-mania (hindsight does make us cringe)).
However, the blueprint is there if you want it. Though there is a rather large snag. You need your party to be malleable enough to make it work. And for malleable read desperate – it really does help if you’ve gone through a few leaders and been tanked at a couple of elections. Blair had Foot, Kinnock and the unlucky Smith; Cameron had the three amigos of Hague, IDS and Howard.
Immediately post-defeat after a period in office is a terrible time to try and get back into power as a new leader. And usually the party chooses a terrible new leader to try and get back into power. Escaping all logic they decide that the real reason the electorate, most of whom are arranged across the middle, threw them out was that they weren’t left-wing/right-wing enough. Impeccable thinking. This lurch to the left or right usually continues until a few more pastings, then they traipse back to the middle, all malleable/desperate.
Which brings us to Ed Miliband and the quandary facing the Labour party. Ed seems to have taken the sit on your backside approach, and the Coalition is doing its best to bugger things up. But still no one wants to vote Labour. So what to do? Is there anything worth shaking up, or is just Ed?
There seem to be two opinions worth having on Ed. One is that he was the wrong child at the wrong time. Or conversely, he was the right child at the right time. The first believes that Ed was a lurch to the left (not that there’s much evidence of this, more a lurch to a whole lot of nothing at all) and his brother, David, would have kept the party in the middle, ready to bounce back.
The second believes in the long-game, and David is a dish best served cold – i.e. Ed can do the hard-yards and take the inevitable defeat, and David can clean up the mess. Both of these trains of thought have the unfortunate, though not implausible, belief that Ed isn’t even the best Labour leader in his own family, let alone national party.
And both assume that Ed can’t win.
So the real decision is – get rid of him now or later? Because Ed Can’t Win is not only a great lapel badge, it’s probably true. But why can’t Ed win? Well, it’s hardly a stunning piece of insightful piece of political analysis but he’s just not the sort of person we want to lead our country. He’s awkward when we want assurance, he’s all elbows and adenoids when we want slick competence and proper vowels, he’s the IT guy, we want the CEO. Sorry, and don’t worry, Ed, if it makes you feel any better, they wouldn’t want me either.
But also he’s indefensibly weak, and perhaps out of touch (which is slightly worrying; it’s not like he has a proper day job). He’s been apologizing for Labour’s record on the economy, giving further ammunition to Coalition attacks, when he should be pointing out a bit more firmly that it wasn’t exactly Labour policy to spend billions bailing out banks. As The Jam once said: Stop apologizing for things you’ve never done.
He also seems to vacillate on spending vs cuts, and he hasn’t found a proper theme to stick to for more than a month. And in the worst week of Cameron’s tenure, he managed to lose a safe seat to George Galloway, even believing the night before that Labour was home and dry. Not exactly finger on the pulse, Ed buddy.
But the question still remains – when is the best timing? Well, its all election crystal-balling, but Labour are going to have to be brave. Remember the Conservatives didn’t really win the last election, they just lost better than the others, and the Lib Dems will get annihilated next time around. Will the economy have picked up by then? (It’s always the economy, stupid.) If so, the wait could get even longer. So Labour will have to go for it in 2015 hoping (in a very perverse way) that we are still flatlining.
And that means a new leader sooner rather than later.