UK: Energy prices, Labour’s bounce and Miliband’s big dilemma

Published on, by Peter Kellner, Sept 30, 2013.

From level-pegging to an 11-point lead in ten days: Labour has plainly had a good conference. But how good – and can it last? Here is the case for Labour optimism. After a difficult summer, YouGov’s poll for the Sunday Times puts Labour at its highest level, 42%, since June. 30% now say Ed Miliband is doing well as party leader – his best rating since May. When people are asked who would make the best Prime Minister, Miliband (25%) is now within three points of David Cameron (28%). That is the narrowest gap since Miliband became party leader three years ago.   

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… There are signs in the Sunday Times poll that the ‘Red Ed’ charge could stick. Even as we find Labour achieving a double-digit lead, we also find that the number of people who regard Miliband as ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ left-wing has climbed from 29% a year ago to 36% today, while the proportion regarding him as in or near the political centre has dropped from 39% to 34%.

These figures not be fatal: Cameron’s figures are an almost exact mirror-image of Miliband: 37% say the Prime Minister is very or fairly right-wing, while 34% put him at or near the political centre.

However, given that Miliband’s opponents are bound to paint him as a dangerous extremist, he faces a dilemma – whether to fight the ‘Red Ed’ tag and insist on his moderation, or to accept the tag and proclaim the virtues of radicalism. Recent history provides conflicting lessons. When he was Labour’s leader in the mid-1990s, Tony Blair ruthlessly removed any policy that could be tagged as left-wing, and placed his flag clearly on the centre ground. In contrast, Margaret Thatcher defied consensus thinking in the late 1970s and persuaded voters that the solutions to Britain’s problems required a radical shift of direction.

In effect, Miliband must choose whether to present himself as a left-wing version of Thatcher or a Blair-style moderate. He needs to persuade voters either that a modest dose of left-of-centre polices is needed, and that he knows how to make them work – or that to favour ‘productive’ over ‘predatory’ capitalism is not socialist at all, but a practical idea whose rightful home is firmly on the centre ground.

Whichever he picks, he must also show he has a quality that Blair and Thatcher shared when they fought for power from opposition: a public perception that they were up to the job. Miliband still has much to do, both to decide his story and to convince voters that he is the right storyteller.

(full text and 2 charts).


YouGov: Labour Party Survey Results;

UK: Who benefits from a freeze in fuel duty? on Left Foot Forward, by James Bloodworth, Sept 30, 2013, with chart.

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