Ed Miliband's personal ratings are miserable – but does it matter?
Cameron fares better – but since the last election there has been little switching between Tory and Labour voters
ED MILIBAND appeared evasive when Andrew Marr asked him on Sunday morning about the latest YouGov poll in the Sunday Times. Not the voting intentions – which showed a four-point lead for Labour over the Tories – but the personality ratings. The bad stuff.
Has Ed Miliband made it clear what he stands for, respondents were asked. Answer: Yes 17, No 67 , Don't Know 18.
Has he been a strong party leader? Strong 9, Weak 52, Don't know (and why should they?) 11, Neither 28.
Is Ed Miliband up to the job of Prime Minister? Yes 17, No 63, Don't Know 20.
And so on.
It was grim reading and the Labour leader, discarding his beachfront photo-op sweater, and back in his dark suit, did his best to dodge Marr's "what on earth are you going to do about it?” line of questioning.
Here's how Miliband should have responded:
1. "You don't have to be the most popular party leader to become Prime Minister. Like me, Margaret Thatcher was less popular than the Prime Minister for most of the late 1970s. Like me, she ran behind her own party in the polls.”
2. "We're all unpopular. Cameron, Clegg and I are all in negative equity in the polls - there are more people saying we are doing a bad job than think we are doing a good one.”
3. "The current Labour lead in the polls would put me in Downing Street even though - until this week - I've had barely a policy worth the name."
The fact that Thatcher's relative unpopularity as leader of the Opposition is seldom remarked upon is testimony to the fact that "victors write the history".
After their 1979 victory the Tories were able to portray the whole of the decade in the lurid colours of the strikes and disruption of the winter of discontent. Many Labour veterans are convinced that Callaghan could have beaten her if he'd gone to the country in the autumn of 1978.
The current unpopularity of all the party leaders is a symptom of a growing disdain for politicians of whatever party. The MPs' expenses scandal casts a long shadow.
As Peter Kellner of YouGov wrote last week: "Today's sustained, across-the-board contempt is historically unprecedented. It reflects not just the particular deficiencies of the three men but something deeper about the way British politics has evolved since the Second World War."
Kellner has pored over Gallup polls going back to the 1940s. He found that "for the first two decades after the war, voters generally held prime ministers in high regard. Occasional negative scores did not last long. Indeed, from the mid-Fifties until the early Sixties it was normal for both the premier and opposition leader to enjoy positive ratings.
"That changed in the 60s. For 40 years if one party leader was up the other would be down. In the early Eighties, Margaret Thatcher usually commanded respect while Michael Foot did not. Fifteen years later, Tony Blair's rating was strongly positive while John Major struggled to impress any bar the most loyal Tories."
Currently the approval/disapproval ratings are Cameron -12, Miliband -46 and Clegg –50 - which looks like a clear advantage for Cameron. Yet in the current fragmented party line-up that may be illusory.
Since the last election there has been little switching between Tory and Labour voters. Cameron's Tories have been battling to stem the advances of UKIP while Labour have been winning Lib Dems disillusioned with their old party's role in the coalition.
So although Miliband is Cameron's rival for Downing Street his success depends on hanging on to former supporters of Nick Clegg's party. And Clegg's negative numbers are even worse than Miliband's. ·