The latest opinion polls will not bless the Leader of the Opposition. Two polls published this week show Labour’s lead over the Conservatives to be slipping badly when they ought, midway through this Parliament, to be growing[i].
The economy may have turned a corner but with youth unemployment close to a million and unemployment still increasing in the north and Scotland, the slippage in support for Labour is bad news for its leader. So too is the apparent distrust in him as leader and potential Prime Minister. 68% cannot see him in this role, including 42% of Labour voters. He is described as out of his depth, weak and indecisive. His wish to rethink the party’s relationship with the Unions is one factor in this.
His vision for One Nation politics is regularly undermined by divisive speeches from Union leaders. He was horrified at the influence of Unite over parliamentary candidate selection in Falkirk and other constituencies and wants trade union members to join the party individually rather than by virtue of their Union’s affiliation. Several Unions have slashed their contributions to party funds and recruiting more individual party members would help to make up for this. When Mr Miliband spoke to the TUC annual conference this week, his speech gave him an opportunity to explain the proposed changes but, judging by the response, he failed to convince. More ‘Chicken run than ‘Raging Bull’ was Cameron’s taunt. Miliband’s second problem is the economy.
Labour is still blamed for creating the economic crisis of 2008-10. Not only does its leader reject this but he and Ed Balls have failed to articulate a convincing alternative economic strategy for post 2015. They may be ‘keeping their powder dry’ till closer to the election but public opinion is unimpressed. Unemployment continues to fall[ii], 1.4 million new private sector jobs have been created since 2010 and manufacturing is up in all 13 sectors for the first time since 1992. The Government claims credit for this, though there is still a long way to go before the economy is mended and much that could still impede recovery. When unemployment falls to 7% the Bank will start to raise interest rates, hitting mortgage payers still experiencing lower wages and living standards.
The Labour conference in ten days’ time offers Mr Miliband an opportunity to change public perceptions and boost his party’s electoral prospects. It could be his last chance. Several senior party members are already grumbling and if he fails to convince in Brighton the clamour for change will grow. Even if he hangs on, voters don’t support divided parties. He has to convince the nation that he has a credible vision and the personal and political strength to deliver it.
[i] Ipsos Mori poll has Labour on 37%, Conservatives on 34%. YouGov has Labour on 39%, Conservatives 33%, Lib Dems on 8% and UKIP on 12%.
[ii] Down another 24,000 in August and the Claimant count down 32,000