Has Ed Miliband smelt the coffee?

New poll suggests that the next Labour leader will need to rebrand the party completely.

Ed Miliband has responded to the results of a poll that Demos commissioned from YouGov to understand the outcome of the general election.

The poll shows that Labour's brand is in toxic territory.The next leader will inherit a party that is seen by voters as "out of touch" and which represents "the past" rather than the future.

Ed Miliband told the Independent:

This poll should leave Labour Party members in no doubt that we must change if we are to win again. We need a commitment to change in our policies, change in our party and movement, and change in the way we do politics. While we achieved a huge amount after 1997, the New Labour formula has had its day with the public, and we need to move on.

It's encouraging to see such a positive response to such disappointing poll findings. Throughout the leadership election, the man who co-ordinated Labour's manifesto has been strikingly willing to accept the defeat and rethink Labour's previously held policies and positions. He has been consistent in his critique of political tribalism and technocratic language.

After the Tory defeat in the 2005 general election, Michael Ashcroft published an analysis called Smell the Coffee: a Wake-Up Call for the Conservative Party. He argued: "The Conservative Party's problem is its brand. Conservatives loath being told this but it is an inescapable fact." That Ed Miliband has accepted Labour's brand problem so quickly is encouraging.

This week, Ed Balls wrote in the Times that Labour's next leader needs to be "both radical and credible". He is right. There is no question that his rejection of Brown and Darling's plan to halve the deficit is "radical", but is it "credible"? It is impossible to say, because he has not put a number on what he calls "a more sensible timetable for deficit reduction".

Yesterday's editorial in the Times complained that David Miliband risked damaging his prospects of emerging as "a serious figure capable of stewarding Britain in challenging economic times" because he has taken a bold approach to tax rises but not been credible on spending. The Times has a point, but it is unfair to single David Miliband out for special scrutiny. Being credible on deficit reduction and radical on new policy are minimum requirements for any new leader of the party.

Whoever wins is going to need to rebrand the party to reinforce their new policy agenda, and signal a clean break from Labour's past. Most of all, the new leader will need to show that he has listened to disaffected voters, not just party members.

Spending four months doing more than 50 hustings events, primarily of party members, is not the best context in which to be drafting the "speech of your life". But between winning the leadership on Saturday 25 September and delivering the leader's speech at conference on Tuesday, Labour's new leader is going to need to change gear and give an image-defining speech.

For many voters, the Labour leadership election will have barely registered in their consciousness. The clips on the evening news on Tuesday night at conference and the headlines in the newspapers on Wednesday morning will be the crucial first test of whether the new leader has "smelt the coffee".

Richard Darlington is head of the Open Left project at Demos.

Richard Darlington is Head of News at IPPR. Follow him on Twitter @RDarlo.

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I'm far from convinced by Cameron's plans for Syria

The Prime Minister has a plan for when the bombs drop. But what about after?

In the House of Commons today, the Prime Minister set out a powerful case for Britain to join air strikes against Isil in Syria.  Isil, he argued, poses a direct threat to Britain and its people, and Britain should not be in the business of “outsourcing our security to our allies”. And while he conceded that further airstrikes alone would not be sufficient to beat Isil, he made the case for an “Isil first” strategy – attacking Isil now, while continuing to do what we can diplomatically to help secure a lasting settlement for Syria in which Assad (eventually) plays no part.

I agreed with much of David Cameron’s analysis. And no-one should doubt either the murderous barbarism of Isil in the region, or the barbarism they foment and inspire in others across the world.  But at the end of his lengthy Q&A session with MPs, I remained unconvinced that UK involvement in airstrikes in Syria was the right option. Because the case for action has to be a case for action that has a chance of succeeding.  And David Cameron’s case contained neither a plan for winning the war, nor a plan for winning the peace.

The Prime Minister, along with military experts and analysts across the world, concedes that air strikes alone will not defeat Isil, and that (as in Iraq) ground forces are essential if we want to rid Syria of Isil. But what is the plan to assemble these ground forces so necessary for a successful mission?  David Cameron’s answer today was more a hope than a plan. He referred to “70,000 Syrian opposition fighters - principally the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – with whom we can co-ordinate attacks on Isil”.

But it is an illusion to think that these fighters can provide the ground forces needed to complement aerial bombardment of Isil.  Many commentators have begun to doubt whether the FSA continues to exist as a coherent operational entity over the past few months. Coralling the myriad rebel groups into a disciplined force capable of fighting and occupying Isil territory is a heroic ambition, not a plan. And previous efforts to mobilize the rebels against Isil have been utter failures. Last month the Americans abandoned a $500m programme to train and turn 5,400 rebel fighters into a disciplined force to fight Isil. They succeeded in training just 60 fighters. And there have been incidents of American-trained fighters giving some of their US-provided equipment to the Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al Qaeda.

Why has it proven so hard to co-opt rebel forces in the fight against Isil? Because most of the various rebel groups are fighting a war against Assad, not against Isil.  Syria’s civil war is gruesome and complex, but it is fundamentally a Civil War between Assad’s forces and a variety of opponents of Assad’s regime. It would be a mistake for Britain to base a case for military action against Isil on the hope that thousands of disparate rebel forces can be persuaded to change their enemy – especially when the evidence so far is that they won’t.

This is a plan for military action that, at present, looks highly unlikely to succeed.  But what of the plan for peace? David Cameron today argued for the separation of the immediate task at hand - to strike against Isil in Syria – from the longer-term ambition of achieving a settlement in Syria and removing Assad.  But for Isil to be beaten, the two cannot be separated. Because it is only by making progress in developing a credible and internationally-backed plan for a post-Assad Syria that we will persuade Syrian Sunnis that fighting Isil will not end up helping Assad win the Civil War.  If we want not only to rely on rebel Sunnis to provide ground troops against Isil, but also provide stable governance in Isil-occupied areas when the bombing stops, progress on a settlement to Syria’s Civil War is more not less urgent.  Without it, the reluctance of Syrian Sunnis to think that our fight is their fight will undermine the chances of military efforts to beat Isil and bring basic order to the regions they control. 

This points us towards doubling down on the progress that has already been made in Vienna: working with the USA, France, Syria’s neighbours and the Gulf states, as well as Russia and Iran. We need not just a combined approach to ending the conflict, but the prospect of a post-war Syria that offers a place for those whose cooperation we seek to defeat Isil. No doubt this will strike some as insufficient in the face of the horrors perpetrated by Isil. But I fear that if we want not just to take action against Isil but to defeat them and prevent their return, it offers a better chance of succeeding than David Cameron’s proposal today. 

Stewart Wood is a former Shadow Cabinet minister and adviser to Ed Miliband. He tweets as @StewartWood.