It comes to something when a leader of the Opposition reads in papers usually friendly to his cause that senior figures in his party do not want him to stay on after he has lost the General Election. It is particularly strange to see this when most polls still put Labour ahead for 2015 and some show Labour winning an overall majority. So why is this happening?
In part it is the arithmetic of the polls. To be sure of winning an opposition party needs to be well ahead at this stage, as the run up to a General Election, particularly with an improving economy, may see a swing to the governing party. In part it is Mr Miliband’s defensive and unambitious strategy. Most of what he is trying to do is geared to reassuring core voters rather than winning new support.
Mr Miliband’s main problem has been his approach to the economy. He spent the first two years in opposition claiming that the government’s economic strategy would lead to further recession. He had no plan B for when recovery broke out, and looked upset that things are now improving. He spent the next period defining a new campaign about the “cost of living crisis” as he called it, just in time for inflation to slump, employment to pick up, and some wages to start to rise more than prices. Again his timing was poor and his ability to predict was faulty.
His main aim has been to run a series of linked campaigns against big business. Rightly seeing that big banks, big oil companies, big energy companies and others are unpopular, he sought to boost his popularity by threatening them. Each individual policy polled well. Who wouldn’t like a cheaper energy bill, cheaper fuel or a more attentive bank? Taken together, however, these policies have probably also weakened Labour’s rankings for economic competence. People are canny enough to know we do need big business, warts and all, and a government could make things worse by the wrong kind of intervention. Say it produces an investment strike? Say the big companies find ways round the price control?
Mr Miliband has to woo people who run businesses, who set up for themselves, who take risks, who save, who have decent jobs. He needs more of them to vote for him. His current strategy sends out the message that only the poor are safe voting Labour. That was not the way Mr Blair or Mr Wilson won elections.