In Depth

Miliband: ‘old-style socialist who can’t connect with public’

Stinging attack from New Statesman as Times claims Labour backbenchers could still ask him to step aside

The Mole

In a devastating critique of Ed Miliband, the editor of the left-wing weekly, the New Statesman, has accused him of being an “old-style Hampstead socialist who has failed to find an authentic voice to connect with the electorate”.

“He doesn’t really understand the lower middle class or material aspiration,” writes Jason Cowley in this week's editorial. “He doesn’t understand Essex Man or Woman. Politics for him must seem at times like an extended PPE seminar: elevated talk about political economy and the good society…”

Nor does Miliband have a “back story” that might capture the public imagination, says Cowley. “[He] does not have a compelling personal story to tell the electorate, as Thatcher did about her remarkable journey from the grocer’s shop in Grantham and the values that sustained her along the way, or Alan Johnson does about his rise from an impoverished childhood in west London.

“ ‘I went to Oxford to study PPE, worked for Gordon Brown, became a cabinet minister and then leader of the party’ does not quite do it. None of this would matter were Miliband in manner and approach not so much the product of this narrow background…”

The attack is particularly upsetting to Team Miliband because the Statesman went out of its way to endorse Ed for the leadership in 2010. 

With this editorial, and an accompanying cover story by George Eaton which includes damning comments from anonymous shadow cabinet ministers, the weekly raises the real possibility that Labour could lose the next general election, not because its policies are unpopular, but because the public simply don’t like the party leader. 

George Eaton quotes one shadow cabinet minister saying: “Morale has never been lower.” Another told him: “We’re all very, very concerned. The reality is that whilst we don’t have a presidential system, people are thinking increasingly about who they want to be the prime minister.”

This source then described a “sobering moment” in which a voter told him: “You’ve been a fantastic MP, but I’m not going to vote for you. Because Ed’s not prime ministerial…  

Meanwhile The Times claims tio have further bad news for Miliband. The paper reports shadow cabinet ministers admitting to “fears” that Labour backbenchers have been circulating a letter asking Miliband to step down. 

The paper produces no evidence of such a letter, but quotes an MP saying anonymously: “Colleagues are saying we’re in meltdown and freefall. If you [had] asked me yesterday, or even this morning, if Ed could go before the election I would have said no. But now I’m not so sure.”

A separate Times article claims that David Axelrod, President Obama’s former strategist, who was hired by Labour earlier this year to help Miliband, is “exasperated” that he has not had more of an impact in transforming Ed from geeky party leader to prime minister-in-waiting.

“A number of Labour sources suggested that Mr Axelrod had shown signs of unhappiness on conference calls and as part of email chains,” says the Times. “He does not like the in-fighting and disorganisation, wants a more optimistic message and does not want Mr Miliband to be bogged down in narrow policy issues.”

That lack of optimism was also picked up by Jason Cowley in the Statesman. “Most damaging, I think, is that he [Miliband] seldom seems optimistic about the country he wishes to lead. Miliband speaks too often of struggle and failure, of people as victims – and it’s true that life is difficult for many. But a nation also wants to feel good about itself and to know in which direction it is moving.”

In an effort to stop the rot, Miliband last night used a shadow cabinet reshuffle to put his former chief of staff, Lucy Powell, in charge of the election campaign operation.

The reshuffle was forced on Miliband by Jim Murphy's decision to stand down to fight for the leadership of the Labour party in Scotland. Drafting in Powell suggests a lack of confidence in ‘Wee Dougie’ Alexander, the sharp-tongued former lawyer, who is still in overall charge of Labour’s election campaign. 

Michael Dugher, formerly part of the election team, was kicked sideways to take the transport brief. He replaces Mary Creagh, who fills the international development vacancy left by Murphy.

The Times quotes a Labour spokesman dismissing as “ludicrous” the idea that Miliband had been panicked into a wider than expected reshuffle. But the more Miliband’s aides protest they are not panicking, the more people will conclude they are gripped by the jitters.

As I reported on Monday, Miliband’s personal rating has slumped to minus-55, worse even that Nick Clegg’s rating, according to the latest SundayTimes/YouGov poll.  

It was easy to see why at Prime Minister’s Question Time yesterday when Miliband attacked Cameron over his promise of an in-out EU referendum and Angela Merkel’s warning that he will not get German support for ending the freedom of movement in Europe.

It was intended to exploit the divisions in the Tory ranks over Europe. But it didn’t work. Cameron was able to brush Miliband aside, because the negotiation is more than two years off, and he knows he’s got public opinion on his side.

Margaret Beckett, who took over the Labour leadership briefly after John Smith’s death, showed Miliband how it should be done a few minutes after he sat down.

She asked Cameron how he would fund the £2.7bn tax cuts he promised voters in his recent party conference speech. The effect was amazing: Cameron who had looked so confident against Miliband suddenly was dancing on hot coals.

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