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Mehdi Hasan hears the sound of a consensus cracking... now everyone loves Ed

Breaking news! Right-wing pundits now admit that they underestimated Ed Miliband.

What's that I hear? The sound of a consensus cracking?

Since 4.50pm on Satuday 25 September 2010, commentators on the right and on the so-called "centre" of the political spectrum have queued up to dismiss Ed Miliband as a lightweight, a cipher, a left-wing loon, "Red Ed", who would consign Labour to electoral oblivion in 2015 and beyond. They collectively mourned his brother David's narrow defeat.

"By choosing Ed Miliband, Labour has handed David Cameron the next election," read the headline to Matthew D'Ancona's column in the Sunday Telegraph the next day.

"On Saturday, David Cameron won the next general election," declared D'Ancona in his opening line, adding: "Could it really have chosen the wrong Miliband? Yes, it could."

"Will Labour be dead with Red Ed?" read the headline to Martin Ivens's column in the Sunday Times, also on 26 September.

"In No 10 last week some were looking forward to an Ed victory for the least flattering of reasons," wrote Ivens. "'There will be rejoicing in Tory towns all over the country if Ed wins,' a top Conservative strategist told me."

"The party voted for David Miliband but got the Panda instead," read the headline to John Rentoul's column in the Independent on Sunday.

"Ed Miliband, who would have struggled against David Cameron in the House of Commons in any event, is going to be roasted every week," argued Rentoul, an ardent Blairite, adding: "I fear that he fights with both hands tied behind his back."

Now, however, more than a year and a half later, following a shambolic budget from George Osborne and impressive gains for Labour in the local elections, those same commentators (and others) have changed their tune and are queuing up to warn against the new and looming threat posed by the Labour leader.

Here's D'Ancona in yesterday's Sunday Telegraph:

It is time to start thinking seriously about Prime Minister Miliband – to roll those words around your mouth. Whatever response the 42-year-old Labour leader provokes within you – and he has always inspired a broad range of reaction – only a fool would ignore his party’s steady progress in the local elections and commanding lead in the opinion polls (15 points ahead of the Tories in the last two YouGov surveys). The cement of popular opinion has not yet set in Miliband’s favour. But let us be objective: after two months of Coalition “omnishambles”, one has to consider that it might yet do so.

To be fair to D'Ancona, the former Spectator editor also added:

When the younger Miliband defeated his brother for the Labour leadership in September 2010 by a tiny twist of the DNA helix, many – including the present writer – thought he lacked the bearing of a future PM. But it must be conceded that he is learning, and fast.

Here's Martin Ivens in yesterday's Sunday Times:

[O]ne May morning in 2015 we could wake up with Ed Miliband as prime minister — even if there are no cheering crowds to greet the dawn with him as they did Tony Blair. Apathy, despair over a miserable economic outlook and a low turnout could return Labour to office...

The headline of the column?

How Miliband could make it to No 10

Meanwhile, in yesterday's Independent on Sunday, John Rentoul, through gritted teeth, acknowledged how

Cameron has allowed Ed Miliband to re-forge the coalition of the Blairites and Brownites. Peter Mandelson co-authored an article on the economy with Ed Balls, and Andrew Adonis returned to the fold to review Labour's industrial policy.

The political consensus has been well and truly cracked. The pack is on the move. Finally. It's taken a while but they seem to have got there in the end.

"Having spent the past six months studying him for our book, I have one piece of advice for Ed Miliband's conservative critics: don't misunderestimate him," I wrote in a column in the Guardian back in June 2011.

Those were the days when I got knocked by the right for daring to write such pieces. So, Matthew, Martin, John - great to have you onboard!

 

 

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.