I missed Ed Miliband on the Marr programme and so, as is increasingly the case these days, I rely on twitter for a sense of how it went. According to some, Marr was a tad tougher than he tends to be on the other leaders, whilst the general reaction to Ed seems to have been reasonably positive with a lot of support for a clear commitment to repeal the NHS Act, a fair bit of backing for his proposals on banking reform, and amid all the usual ‘geek’ comments, what also comes through is that he was energetic and passionate, which is good.
This is an important week for Labour, and especially for Ed. He knows, and is disarmingly frank about, the negative views that some continue to hold about him, and the view – which I have heard expressed by some at a wide range of events I have done in recent days – that he does not have what it takes to be Prime Minister. Equally however, I have heard some who wrote him off two years ago now saying they can imagine him winning.
There are two strong cards which play in his favour. One is David Cameron, who became PM in part because people felt like he looked the part, but whose ratings are now in fairly steady decline because beneath the slick act there appears to be little of substance. The second is that Ed, despite being written off by many in the early days, has shown a resilience and a calm which have enabled Labour to avoid the divisions we feared opening after defeat in 2010, and which have seen him now reach the point where people have to take seriously the prospect of him winning the next election.
That now opens the door to what he has to say about policy, which for all the focus on looks and personality in modern politics, is ultimately what matters. Last year, when he spoke of responsible capitalism and started a debate on ‘producers v predators,’ the instant judgement of the commentariat was that the speech was a lurch to the left, and would not connect with voters Labour needs to win back. But as the months passed, both Tory and Lib Dem ministers started to sense the appeal of the argument, and move into the same space.
The banking reforms which will be an important part of his speech on Tuesday are likely to provoke a strong reaction from right wing commentators and vested financial interests. But David Cameron and Nick Clegg have both talked the talk on banking reform, but walked in the opposite direction when decision time came. If Ed is stating his commitment to reform as unequivocally as he is stating his commitment on the NHS, again I would not be surprised if instant reaction goes against him, but a more settled reaction works in his favour.
It is not always easy for the Opposition to get noticed, and it’s even harder when there are not just one but two parties of government. But precisely because the prospect of this being a one term Tory government is a real one, this week the uncommitted will hopefully listen more closely than usual.
For party supporters, meanwhile, a few thoughts. Do NOT imagine that regular ten point leads now translate into an election win in three years. Polls reflect mood as much as intention and the mood surrounding the government is not great. Once policies are being spelled out which show what Labour can and would do differently,and which are being widely discussed in a way that we start to dominate the agenda, then I would hope the poll leads would widen further. What we must never ever do is be complacent because we are in the lead.
Second, now is the time for the shadow ministerial team to up its game and up its profile. Too few of them are well known to the public, and too few of them are making interventions which connect with the public. Every single one of them, not just Ed Miliband, must speak beyond the hall and into the country this week.
Third, save for a political crisis which brings the coalition to an end (still unlikely in my view) we know when the next election will be. It is two and a half years away. In the first half of this Parliament, Labour has shown it can be an Opposition again after a long time in power. Now we have to show we are an alternative government. That does not mean setting out every dot and comma of every policy. But it does mean signalling some very clear pointers, and my skim reading of twitter’s response to Marr tells me that is what Ed did this morning, so hopefully we will see plenty more in the days ahead.
— a few Manchester PS points … I did a tour of the National Football Museum yesterday. It really is a terrific example of a modern museum, and free. I was in a bit of a rush, but anyone with an interest in football could easily spend a whole day in there.
— I am looking forward to beng grilled by Dave Haslam at the Royal Exchange on life, times and addiction later today. I think the event is sold out but tomorrow’s event with Peter Mandelson and me discussing a new book about Philip Gould is open to all delegates, 1 pm, Manchester Central, Charter 1. Danny Finkelstein is in the chair and Peter and I will be discussing political purpose, friendship and the New Labour project. And much else besides I suspect.