Ed Miliband says Labour behaved like “squatters in power”

Labour leadership candidate says the party was too hesitant while in office.

In my Sunday Mirror column today I offer a gently mocking end-of-first-term assessment of the coalition government. I also quote something from Ed Miliband, the Labour leadership contender.

When I spoke to him he contrasted the confidence of David Cameron and his coalition partners with the hesitancy and lack of confidence of New Labour in power, in spite of their landslide victories. It's as if New Labour always felt like imposters, as if they had somehow tricked their way into government and didn't quite belong.

In some ways, they did trick their way in to power and behaved as such. The whole New Labour period can look more and more like an elaborate confidence trick, in retrospect.

By contrast, David Cameron and George Osborne -- especially the latter, who, though you may disagree with him, is a very impressive conviction politician (as is Ed Miliband, it so happens) -- behave in the way of Conservatives of old. They act as if theirs is the natural party of government and it is the historic duty and role of the Conservatives to rescue the country from the irresponsibility and misrule of lesser parties.

Call it noblesse oblige or, perhaps, the entitlement of privilege. Whatever you call it, Ed Miliband is bothered by how the Tories, using the Lib Dems as cover, can be so radical and so bold, even though they didn't win a majority at the election in May.

This is what Ed said to me:

It's very interesting what the coalition has done, a bit like George Bush in 2000. The coalition, like Bush, has won a very questionable mandate and yet they act like they own the place. The cuts [in public spending] David Cameron is making are going well beyond what he needed to do. He could have chosen a different course. He didn't. Yet when Labour wins an emphatic mandate we act sometimes like we are squatters in power. That has to change, surely?

Jason Cowley is editor of the New Statesman. He has been the editor of Granta, a senior editor at the Observer and a staff writer at the Times.

Ukip's Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. Photo: Getty
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Is the general election 2017 the end of Ukip?

Ukip led the way to Brexit, but now the party is on less than 10 per cent in the polls. 

Ukip could be finished. Ukip has only ever had two MPs, but it held an outside influence on politics: without it, we’d probably never have had the EU referendum. But Brexit has turned Ukip into a single-issue party without an issue. Ukip’s sole remaining MP, Douglas Carswell, left the party in March 2017, and told Sky News’ Adam Boulton that there was “no point” to the party anymore. 

Not everyone in Ukip has given up, though: Nigel Farage told Peston on Sunday that Ukip “will survive”, and current leader Paul Nuttall will be contesting a seat this year. But Ukip is standing in fewer constituencies than last time thanks to a shortage of both money and people. Who benefits if Ukip is finished? It’s likely to be the Tories. 

Is Ukip finished? 

What are Ukip's poll ratings?

Ukip’s poll ratings peaked in June 2016 at 16 per cent. Since the leave campaign’s success, that has steadily declined so that Ukip is going into the 2017 general election on 4 per cent, according to the latest polls. If the polls can be trusted, that’s a serious collapse.

Can Ukip get anymore MPs?

In the 2015 general election Ukip contested nearly every seat and got 13 per cent of the vote, making it the third biggest party (although is only returned one MP). Now Ukip is reportedly struggling to find candidates and could stand in as few as 100 seats. Ukip leader Paul Nuttall will stand in Boston and Skegness, but both ex-leader Nigel Farage and donor Arron Banks have ruled themselves out of running this time.

How many members does Ukip have?

Ukip’s membership declined from 45,994 at the 2015 general election to 39,000 in 2016. That’s a worrying sign for any political party, which relies on grassroots memberships to put in the campaigning legwork.

What does Ukip's decline mean for Labour and the Conservatives? 

The rise of Ukip took votes from both the Conservatives and Labour, with a nationalist message that appealed to disaffected voters from both right and left. But the decline of Ukip only seems to be helping the Conservatives. Stephen Bush has written about how in Wales voting Ukip seems to have been a gateway drug for traditional Labour voters who are now backing the mainstream right; so the voters Ukip took from the Conservatives are reverting to the Conservatives, and the ones they took from Labour are transferring to the Conservatives too.

Ukip might be finished as an electoral force, but its influence on the rest of British politics will be felt for many years yet. 

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