As every newspaper will continue to remind you, from now until May, the general election is only a few fleeting months away and therefore we need to talk about Ed. Ed Miliband has been the somewhat retiring leader of the Labour party for around four years now and he hasn’t exactly been lighting up the front benches. Since becoming the party leader Miliband has faced criticism for everything from his ideology to the fact he looks a bit like a Wallace and Gromit character. Back in 2010 The Sun, hailed his election to Labour leader by coining the phrase ‘Red Ed’ attacking his supposedly socialist ideological roots, and from there it all started to go wrong. Upon being branded ‘Red Ed’, Miliband started his tenure as leader on the defensive, doing interviews left, right and centre to convince the voters at home and the press that he wasn’t a radical and wasn’t planning on turning the UK into the USSR, which ironically was his first mistake. Today, the party’s core membership are crying out for a ‘Red Ed’, demanding a more hard-line, or even, socialist manifesto to tackle the raging inequality and mindless austerity measures that have created havoc.
To understand the current state of the Labour party we have to rewind back to 2007 when Tony Blair left Downing Street and the New Labour dream effectively came to a juddering halt. The bubble had just burst, foot and mouth swept the land and Gordon Brown was our new Prime Minister. The party had lost its visionary and with no clause IV found itself drifting somewhere between the Lib Dems and the Tories – shark infested waters if you will.
Miliband was elected to leadership by the unions as a socialist leaning MP, one to combat the neo-Thatcher ideology of Cameron and the coalition and has spent the subsequent four years doing the opposite. The average voter, including some of their MPs, has no idea what Labour stand for in 2014 and that is mostly Miliband’s fault having more or less failed as leader of the opposition; it would seem as though the Lib Dems have been more vocally critical of this government than Miliband. Yet hope is not entirely lost and Miliband, to his credit, has started to address this. Four years late is better than never, I suppose. In a recent speech at Senate House in Manchester he revealed Labour’s strategy for the upcoming election, positioning the party in opposition to what he described as a “[a] country that only works for the privileged few”, echoing what so many on the left have been saying for years. However, over the last four years Miliband has done very little to demonstrate any kind of commitment to the values he claims to be fighting for, Labour have proved useless in opposition and Tory ideology has rampaged unchecked through our welfare system and NHS.
In a recent talk at UEA, prominent author and activist Owen Jones urged students to put pressure on Miliband by voting for Labour candidates with socialist values, arguing that a strong, democratic-socialist Labour party is the best chance we have for fixing the problems of embedded inequality.It is vitally important that Miliband continues this rhetoric of fixing the inequalities in our society and pays no heed to the braying of UKIP and Conservative back benchers. If the immigration debate is allowed to dominate this election Labour will lose, those concerned about Romanians moving in next door will not vote for ‘Red Ed’, they’ll vote for Farage. UKIP have positioned themselves as the outsiders in 2015, however if Miliband wants to become prime minister it is Labour that must become the truly anti-establishment party.
With a lot of recent media focus being put on the instability of the Labour leadership, with the big question being whether Ed Miliband is the right man to lead Labour into 2015, attention has drifted away from the troubles of the Conservative party. With defections to Ukip, coalition partner fallouts and EU divisions to contend with, the Conservatives are in a crisis that only decisive action on Europe can fix. The Conservatives are right to be worried about Ukip; their growth in popularity has awoken even the most apathetic politicos and their support isn’t coming from those that have never voted before. The core demographic are, broadly speaking, dissatisfied Tory voters, with the pollsters at YouGov reporting that 45% of Ukip supporters voted Conservative in 2010, whilst only 12% of the party’s supporters voted for Ukip themselves. In essence, the Tories are very clearly losing support, and although it’s not enough support for Ukip to gather together a general election win, it certainly presents an easy win for Labour. It’s abundantly clear, therefore, that the Tories will need to up their game if they’re to be seen as an acceptable alternative to Ukip as a party in favour of EU reform.
It’s not just a loss of support that’s causing problems for the Tories. The former Conservative and now Ukip MP for Clacton, Douglas Carswell, sent shockwaves into the heart of Westminster politics when he became the first Ukip MP. The significance of this is obvious; no longer can Ukip justifiably be considered the protest vote of “fruit cakes” given that the party are clearly beginning to gain localised support. Ukip has developed a very successful formula for fighting in isolated seats, as they have shown in Clacton and in Rochester and Strood. If they want to compete, the Conservatives will have to shake up their image as a part of the establishment, and up their game on EU and immigration.
The woes of the Conservatives don’t end at Ukip troubles. You may have caught George Osborne answering some urgent commons questions over the UK’s backdated EU bill. The exact amount that needed paying was £1.7bn, but Osborne maintained that the cost of the bill had been slashed to £850 million. It hadn’t, so he faced some tough questions from Ed Balls in the House of Commons. Although Osborne masterfully dodged his questions, and the story has sort of fluttered away, the frankly contemptuous way in which the Chancellor avoided the questions will only add to the already growing discontentment with party politics, and the public perception of politicians showing contempt for their accountability. With EU wounds not healing, this only serves to throw the Tories deeper in crisis.
So with what appears to be the two largest political parties in UK heading into crises, one over leadership and one over Europe, we could be about to see a significant step change in British politics. If the Conservatives are to come out their developing crisis positively, they will need to be decisive over Europe and ensure continued respect for the electorate in the future.