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.

Picture: ANDRÉ CARRILHO
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Leader: Boris Johnson, a liar and a charlatan

The Foreign Secretary demeans a great office of state with his carelessness and posturing. 

Boris Johnson is a liar, a charlatan and a narcissist. In 1988, when he was a reporter at the Times, he fabricated a quotation from his godfather, an eminent historian, which duly appeared in a news story on the front page. He was sacked. (We might pause here to acknowledge the advantage to a young journalist of having a godfather whose opinions were deemed worthy of appearing in a national newspaper.) Three decades later, his character has not improved.

On 17 September, Mr Johnson wrote a lengthy, hyperbolic article for the Daily Telegraph laying out his “vision” for Brexit – in terms calculated to provoke and undermine the Prime Minister (who was scheduled to give a speech on Brexit in Florence, Italy, as we went to press). Extracts of his “article”, which reads more like a speech, appeared while a terror suspect was on the loose and the country’s threat level was at “critical”, leading the Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, to remark: “On the day of a terror attack where Britons were maimed, just hours after the threat level is raised, our only thoughts should be on service.”

Three other facets of this story are noteworthy. First, the article was published alongside other pieces echoing and praising its conclusions, indicating that the Telegraph is now operating as a subsidiary of the Johnson for PM campaign. Second, Theresa May did not respond by immediately sacking her disloyal Foreign Secretary – a measure of how much the botched election campaign has weakened her authority. Finally, it is remarkable that Mr Johnson’s article repeated the most egregious – and most effective – lie of the EU referendum campaign. “Once we have settled our accounts, we will take back control of roughly £350m per week,” the Foreign Secretary claimed. “It would be a fine thing, as many of us have pointed out, if a lot of that money went on the NHS.”

This was the promise of Brexit laid out by the official Vote Leave team: we send £350m to Brussels, and after leaving the EU, that money can be spent on public services. Yet the £350m figure includes the rebate secured by Margaret Thatcher – so just under a third of the sum never leaves the country. Also, any plausible deal will involve paying significant amounts to the EU budget in return for continued participation in science and security agreements. To continue to invoke this figure is shameless. That is not a partisan sentiment: the head of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir David Norgrove, denounced Mr Johnson’s “clear misuse of official statistics”.

In the days that followed, the chief strategist of Vote Leave, Dominic Cummings – who, as Simon Heffer writes in this week's New Statesman, is widely suspected of involvement in Mr Johnson’s article – added his voice. Brexit was a “shambles” so far, he claimed, because of the ineptitude of the civil service and the government’s decision to invoke Article 50 before outlining its own detailed demands.

There is a fine Yiddish word to describe this – chutzpah. Mr Johnson, like all the other senior members of Vote Leave in parliament, voted to trigger Article 50 in March. If he and his allies had concerns about this process, the time to speak up was then.

It has been clear for some time that Mr Johnson has no ideological attachment to Brexit. (During the referendum campaign, he wrote articles arguing both the Leave and Remain case, before deciding which one to publish – in the Telegraph, naturally.) However, every day brings fresh evidence that he and his allies are not interested in the tough, detailed negotiations required for such an epic undertaking. They will brush aside any concerns about our readiness for such a huge challenge by insisting that Brexit would be a success if only they were in charge of it.

This is unlikely. Constant reports emerge of how lightly Mr Johnson treats his current role. At a summit aiming to tackle the grotesque humanitarian crisis in Yemen, he is said to have astounded diplomats by joking: “With friends like these, who needs Yemenis?” The Foreign Secretary demeans a great office of state with his carelessness and posturing. By extension, he demeans our politics. 

This article first appeared in the 21 September 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The revenge of the left