Conservative "poll blow" won't land on Ed

Leaked polling data suggesting David Miliband is considered more fit to be prime minister can be dis

Conservative polling, leaked to the Times (£), has suggested that Ed Miliband is not considered as fit for the job of prime minister as his brother David.

53 per cent of respondents apparently said they thought David was more suited to the top job, compared with 36 per cent for his younger brother, and Labour's new leader:

"Mr Miliband is seen as a nice, compassionate figure. However, voters do not believe that he has a clear plan for the economy and fear that their lives would be worse off with him in charge"

While undoubtedly piling yet more pressure on Ed to deliver the speech of his life this afternoon, this leak also highlights once again just how crucial David Miliband's choice about his future in politics could be to Labour's time in opposition.

Straight-forward popularity in leadership elections has never been a particularly good measure of electoral success, as Ken Clarke has proved time and time again -- in 1997's Tory contest, he was the first choice of more people than the other four candidates combined, only to lose out to William Hague in the actual poll. Of course, the situations are not directly comparable; the Conservative contest was conducted via a poll of MPs, rather than a full electoral college as Labour's was. But in one sense, Ed Miliband's challenge is similar to William Hague's, facing as he does a newly-elected prime minister still enjoying reasonable personal approval, having just beaten an apparently more popular colleague in a close-run contest to lead his party.

As much as David Miliband himself might urge unity and a break with "class war", his presence cannot help but encourage constant comparisons with his brother.

However, there is no reason why this poll should have a significant impact on either Ed Miliband's ability to set a new agenda or Labour's boost in the polls today. Despite the Times' decision to run this as their front page today, their article lacks sufficient information to draw any firm conclusions. It was apparently conducted "this month during the Labour leadership contest", and "involved more than 2,000 respondents online" who were asked for their views "after watching their campaign videos". Without more information about when precisely the poll was conducted, who the respondents were (party affiliation and so on), and whether responses were based purely on campaign videos, it is impossible to consider this a serious "blow" to Ed Miliband.

Caroline Crampton is web editor of the New Statesman.

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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.