Ed Miliband winning battle for public opinion after Mail attack
A timely reminder that newspaper readers don’t always share their paper’s political bias
THE Ed Miliband/Daily Mail saga has not only overshadowed the headlines, it has influenced the post-conference-season opinion polls to Miliband’s advantage.
By a margin of four to one, people surveyed by YouGov say the Mail was wrong to depict the Labour leader’s father, Ralph Miliband, as “the man who hated Britain”. Among all voters, only 17 per cent find the Mail’s language acceptable, while 72 per cent say it was unacceptable.
Seventy-eight per cent think Ed Miliband was right to complain to the paper, and a quarter of people say the way he has reacted to the Mail’s attack has made them view the Labour leader more positively.
Even among the Mail’s own readers, the tide of opinion is running at two-to-one in Miliband’s favour. By 60 per cent to 29 per cent, they think it was unacceptable to use language like the “man who hated Britain” and 57 per cent of Mail readers would like to see their paper apologise to Miliband.
The findings illustrate an important fact that politicians sometimes forget – that many readers are immune to the political bias of the paper they buy. As PoliticalBetting.com reminds us, just under 60 per cent of Mail readers supported the Tories in the 2010 general election; 16 per cent supported Labour and a quarter of Mail readers give their allegiance to the Lib Dems or ‘others’.
So, the Ralph Miliband row has given Miliband Jnr a big boost after a successful Labour conference – or has it?
Scepticism is prompted by a Populus survey of what news stories are best remembered by the public from the conference season.
The Tory conference actually topped the list with 12 per cent, followed by the Nairobi mall attack and the Miliband-Mail row both scoring nine per cent and the US government shutdown eight per cent.
Miliband’s energy price freeze – the announcement that had the Mail and others warning of a return to 1970s-style socialism and without which the article attacking Ralph Miliband might never have been published - was apparently recalled by less than one per cent of those polled.
It’s a healthy reminder to those inside the political bubble that their obsessions are not always shared by the general public.
And it helps to explain how, despite a welcome bounce for Ed Miliband after his conference speech – when he promised not only to freeze gas and electricity prices for 20 months, but also to scrap the ‘bedroom tax’ - the state of the parties this morning looks very similar to what it was before the conference season began: Labour in the high 30s, the Tories in the low 30s, and Ukip leading the Lib Dems by 13 to 11.
Of all the party leaders, Ed Miliband went into the conference season with most to prove and there’s wide acknowledgement that he did what he needed to do.
By redefining the economic argument as being about the “cost of living crisis”, Labour insiders believe he has pulled the Conservatives into an area where the government is vulnerable.
He has also produced a succinct definition of his opponent. His charge that "David Cameron is strong at standing up to the weak, but weak at standing up to the strong," will bear repetition by Miliband and his shadow ministers in the months ahead.
Although his immediate bounce in the polls has faded, there is one striking improvement for Miliband. His stock amongst Labour supporters has jumped dramatically. People were planning to vote Labour, it seemed, despite harbouring doubts about the leader. On questions of whether he was doing a good job or a bad job, Miliband went into the conference with a small negative rating. Post-conference he has a 41 per cent plus score.
So Labour can claim they are winning the “air war”, the national battle between the party high commands fought in Parliament and the media and measured by the polls.
And in the “ground war” - the battle for the key marginals where general elections are won and lost - the Tories are struggling, according to a frank assessment by one of David Cameron’s rising stars, Gavin Barwell.
“In many Conservative/Labour marginals, our membership is so small that it is difficult to raise funds for campaigning or find enough people to deliver our literature,” Barwell writes for ConservativeHome.
“What strength we have left tends to be in safe Conservative seats and it is very difficult to motivate activists in these areas to go and campaign elsewhere where their efforts might have some impact on the number of Conservative MPs elected to Parliament.”
Barwell, parliamentary aide to Education Secretary Michael Gove, knows what he’s talking about: he would lose his Croydon Central seat with only a three per cent swing to Labour.
His concerns are reinforced by Lord Ashcroft’s polling of 32 key Tory-Labour marginals. It shows an 8.5 per cent swing from the Conservatives to Labour since the last election - enough for Labour to win all 32 of them, plus a further 66 if the swing were repeated in Conservative-Labour contests elsewhere.
Ashcroft, a former Tory party treasurer, is so alarmed by his poll results that he is urging Cameron to use his government reshuffle, expected today, to drop all Conservative ministers in the party's 40/40 marginal constituency bracket – 40 targets to take, 40 to hold – so they can concentrate on saving their seats. ·