This week was the first real week where I’ve considered leaving the Labour Party. Leaving the party that I’ve spent over four years campaigning for, supporting and advocating on behalf of. Four years spent knocking on doors, leafleting in the rain and acting as youth officer for my constituency, only for Ed Miliband to blow Labour’s chances. My opinion, belief and overwhelming feelings are becoming uncomfortably clear: Ed Miliband must go.
I understand that politically, replacing Ed Miliband within one year of an election is toxic. Correctly, supporters of Ed point to Australia. Kevin Rudd replaced Julia Gillard in the final stages of the Australian parliamentary year in 2013, offering new hope that the Australian Labour Party, even if it wouldn’t win, would at least put up a fight in the following election. The result was grim, with the election of a conservative government in Australia that aims to reduce the role of the state, roll back environmental laws and reduce all taxes introduced or raised by the Labour government. Evidently, replacing Miliband now would risk Labour’s whole election strategy.
However, this distorts the argument somewhat. Removing Miliband now would remove a serious threat. The threat of a majority Conservative government brought to power because of the schoolboy errors of a leader living in a bubble, who frankly does not have an election strategy to risk. We used to talk about the ‘squeezed middle’, then ‘One Nation’ and now the ‘cost of living’. We used to say that we were alright, with a strong 10 point poll lead. Then it was 8 points. And now it is 6. This time next year Labour will not have the popular support to form a majority government.
This animosity of mine towards Ed has grown out of a number of painful policies he has failed to denounce. Perhaps I’m being overly sceptical of Labour’s leader. But what makes the situation worse is that he is clearly intelligent and capable. His performance is merely damaged by living in a world of special advisers. First, the horrible photo of Mr Miliband with the Sun newspaper. In 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 Ed has been photographed with a newspaper whose ex-Editor is at the centre of a criminal trial and which remains anti-Labour. Once is enough, but repeating schoolboy errors leaves the impression that his attempts to change the way we do politics is a mask for his real aims – to gain the attention of the press.
In addition, the Labour frontbench has announced frankly insulting policies. Despite the announcement of an energy price freeze and a mansion-tax, other policies have been offensive. To suggest that young people should have their job seeker benefits reduced goes against the whole idea of a government that works for everyone. It suggests that young people are worth less than their parents or grand-parents because they find it difficult to get work, have not paid as much tax or, quite simply, do not vote as much. Rather than attack the Conservatives’ cuts to disability living allowance, and the shambles that is ATOS, it attacks the young in our society. This only goes to fuel the division politics that we should be tackling, and disconnects the party from its ideals of compassion and fairness.
Furthermore, the failure to stick up for public sector workers has been disappointing. Mr Miliband continues to support a 1% capped pay increase, representing a pay cut for workers under the continued threat of redundancy. Frankly, endorsing budget cuts on the scale we have seen is tantamount to supporting making swathes of underpaid public sector workers unemployed. That, quite simply, is not what I want my leader to be standing up for. This, coupled with his failure to create a clear argument for EU membership, means he is failing to give reasons to enthuse voters or the Labour base.
Let’s look at this from another perspective. Populist policies are popular (as hinted by their name), and the public supports them. A 50% tax rate – people support that. An energy price freeze – people support that. Helping companies pay workers the living wage – people support that. But what people do not support is a leader who doesn’t understand the severity of this battle. People do not support a leader who seems ‘personalityless’. People do not support a man they know can deliver, but is being stopped by a comfy Westminster group of political spin doctors.
Without continued policies from a charismatic leader to a willing electorate, the consequences could be devastating. It is never great to lose an intelligent and capable man because he has failed to break down the walls of his special advisers. However, if push comes to shove – I’d rather the leader be pushed than populist policies be shoved and ultimately rejected at the ballot box in 2015.
By James Wand