The New Statesman’s rolling politics blog

RSS

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.