In Depth

The undoing of Ed Miliband: what Labour insiders say

From the party conference disaster to the mockery of Ed Stone: Miliband's aides discuss defeat

Ed Miliband realised the moment he stepped off the stage at the 2014 Labour party conference that he had forgotten to mention the deficit and that it would prove a gift to his enemies. He was so distraught that he shut himself in his hotel room where his wife Justine and close advisers tried to persuade him it wasn't that serious.

"We tried to cheer him up,"a former speechwriter recalls, "but he was too upset. He did not come to the celebratory party, he just did not want to come out of his room."

The revelation comes in an extended article by Patrick Wintour, political editor of The Guardian, based on interviews with Labour insiders, titled 'The undoing of Ed Miliband – and how Labour lost the election'.

"It is a story of decisions deferred, of a senior team divided, and of a losing struggle to make the Labour leader electable," writes Wintour. "At its heart are the twin forces that would prove to be the party's undoing: the profound doubts about Labour's instincts on the economy and the surge of nationalism in Labour's onetime Scottish heartlands."

Here are five things Miliband's aides told Wintour anonymously – and why.


"They [the Tories] stumbled on this SNP thing. We did not realise how much impact it would have, and perhaps they did not realise how much."

Team Miliband never saw the Tory propaganda coming. In the final weeks of the campaign, Cameron's strategists realised that if they could persuade the public that Labour could only win the election "propped up" by a party advocating the break-up of the United Kingdom, they might be on to a winner.

In desperation, two weeks before the election Lucy Powell, Miliband's campaign chair, wrote to the BBC's director of news to accuse the corporation of pro-Tory bias in its "relentless focus" on Scotland.

"We strongly object not only to the scale of your coverage but also the apparent abandonment of any basic news values, with so much reporting now becoming extremely repetitive," she wrote. "The BBC has a responsibility not only to reflect what the Conservatives are saying but also to reflect on it."

It was too late – and it was to have a profound effect on the election result.

The economy

"There was no explosion, but the tension was horrible. You could cut the air with a knife, and everyone wanted to get out. It was very unpleasant."

Ever since he became party leader in 2010, Ed Miliband had refused to defend the previous Labour government's record on the economy against "the Tory lie" (Alastair Campbell's phrase) that Gordon Brown's government had caused the 2008 crash by over-spending.

"At the start of the parliament, we had an immediate challenge. The question was whether you confront the Tory spin… or whether you concede the point. But we neither confronted nor conceded – we simply tried to move on."

The "horrible tension" described above came at a meeting in June 2014 when some of his key advisers told Miliband that if he was to win the 2015 election it was time to rebrand himself "as a man capable of telling hard truths about the difficult issues facing post-crash Britain, such as benefits and devolution," writes Wintour.

But Miliband, determined to stick to his inequality agenda, was defensive and suspicious. The new approach was implemented only half-heartedly and for two weeks after that meeting he refused to talk to his election campaign chief Spencer Livermore, whom he saw as the ringleader of the group demanding change.

The 2014 conference speech

"He was not quite sure in his head where he was, so when he got to the bit where the deficit should have been, he just started a different section. I remember immediately thinking 'shit'."

Instead of rehearsing his keynote speech – which he had memorised – at the Labour conference last September, Miliband was forced to concentrate on a re-write of the opening section, in response to David Cameron's proposal that morning that Britain should join the US in bombing Isis in Iraq.

"Stupidly, none of us had thought the late changes could have an impact on the quality of what he would deliver in the rest of the speech," someone involved in its writing told Wintour.Miliband found himself having to improvise. Suddenly the speech was over and Labour's plans to deal with the deficit had never been mentioned.

An adviser who helped to write the speech now admits Miliband's human lapse reflected a deeper political truth. "Had there been more references in the speech to the deficit, he would not have forgotten it. If we had run it through like a stick of rock it would have been impossible to forget.'"

The 'Ed Stone'

"The only reason it got through ten planning meetings was because we were all distracted, looking for a way to punch through on the SNP."

The decision to have six Labour pledges carved into a one-tonne slab of limestone was widely ridiculed.

The plan was to erect it in the garden at Number Ten if Miliband won the election. Following the defeat, two plans were drawn up. The first was to smash it up and throw it on the scrap heap. "The second was to break it up and sell chunks, like the Berlin Wall, to party members as a fundraising effort," writes Wintour.

But the first attempts to destroy the stone had to be postponed when the Daily Mail tracked its location to a London warehouse. "There are claims it has been destroyed," says Wiuntour, "but even Miliband's close advisers cannot confirm its fate."

Election night

"Total silence. The shock was just awful. That exit poll will be seared in my brain for ever."

At five to ten on election night, Ed Miliband was preparing to move into Number Ten. Minutes later his advisers were staring at each other in disbelief as the exit poll suggested the Tories could win a Commons majority.

By Friday morning, the results were in. When Miliband arrived at Labour HQ ready to resign, there was talk of his staying on in a "caretaker role" as the Tory leader Michael Howard had done following his defeat to Tony Blair in 2005.

It was Miliband's wife, Justine, who said he should go immediately: he should not have to be repeatedly mocked by Tory backbenchers at Prime Minister's Questions.


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