The party conference season undoubtedly marks the zenith of Britain’s political calendar. Last week, it was Ed Miliband’s turn to enjoy the media limelight.
From my centre-ground perspective, it seems that Miliband has thus far failed to set out a clear, well researched, or original agenda. Opinion polls suggest the same perspective, with many people still asking: which course would he set sail for were he to become captain of the great British ship of state? Although Miliband’s speech satisfied Labour’s activists to some extent, the Labour leader is struggling to reach out and connect to those who only take a passing interest in political phenomena – a group he will need to entice prior to the election. Perturbingly for him, only 17% of the population has any idea of what Miliband stands for, and a whopping 67% are clueless about his ‘vision’ for the country.
Problematically, Miliband resembles Neil Kinnock more than Tony Blair. This is an unwelcome curse for any Labour leader since Kinnock’s fatal flaw was that he simply did not fit into the country’s idea of ‘Prime Ministerial material’. Similarly, Miliband lacks the vivacity which characterised Tony Blair’s reign as Leader of the Opposition. Blair was able to attract voters who didn’t usually vote Labour. By the mid-1990s, it was ubiquitously assumed that the New Labour brand would soon be holding the illustrious reins of power. In contrast, a Labour victory in 2015 is nowhere near inevitable.
Miliband’s predicament is that the public associates Labour with the stringent cuts being made across the board. The Coalition has successfully painted a picture of itself being forced to clear up the mess bequeathed by Labour. Moreover, if the public were convinced by Miliband’s rhetoric on Britain’s surmountable malaise, the ‘cost of living crisis’ and genuinely thought he was a ‘One Nation’ politician, then Labour would be steaming ahead in the polls. Perhaps one of the reasons why Miliband refrained from criticising Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats was because he is astute enough to realise that they may be his coalition partners one day.
To add to the woes of the Labour Party is the feeling that Miliband’s policy proposals are not being enthusiastically received in politically friendly circles either. Many former Labour ministers have come out with criticisms against the policies. Lord Mandelson has called Labour’s new energy policy “backwards” and believes the Party’s new direction is disagreeable.
Labour lies unsteadily on the crossroads of history. Should Miliband carry on the New Labour project or should he revert back to his party’s socialist leanings? The ‘One Nation’ brand has proved a PR disaster. Perhaps a sign that he should have avoided a phrase inextricably associated with Disraeli’s Conservatism. If there is anything we can take away from the conference, it is that Labour still has substantial work to do.