100 days of Ed Miliband: the defining moments

The key points from Miliband’s first 100 days as Labour leader.

Best moment: Miliband's clear and persuasive opposition to the abolition of universal child benefit. It ensured that his first PMQs was a success and allowed him to assert his social-democratic credentials. With the Treasury warning that the planned benefit cuts are "unenforceable", Miliband's opposition may yet pay dividends.

Worst moment: The Labour leader was humiliated when David Cameron declared: "I'd rather be a child of Thatcher than a son of Brown." It was the defining moment of what proved to be his worst week as leader.

Best line: "I was a student politician, but I wasn't hanging around with people who were throwing bread rolls and wrecking restaurants." (To David Cameron at PMQs on 8 December)

Worst line: "I think I was doing something else at the time, actually." (On why he missed the students' protest)

Best joke: "If the Kremlin is spying on the Lib Dems, I'm not surprised. They want a bit of light relief." (At PMQs in response to the Mike Hancock story)

Worst joke: "I stole David's football, so he nationalised my train set." (In his party conference speech)

Least loyal shadow minister: Alan Johnson wins this one by a country mile. His sustained opposition to a graduate tax and to a permanent 50p income-tax rate represented the most serious challenge to Miliband's authority. The shadow chancellor eventually climbed down and suggested that there was a "strong case" for graduate tax, albeit in the most unconvincing way possible. But the damage had been done and the confusion meant Labour could offer only token opposition to higher tuition fees.

Highest Labour poll rating: 43 per cent (YouGov/Sun poll, 20 December)

Lowest Labour poll rating: 34 per cent (ComRes/Independent on Sunday, 15 October)

And finally . . . Best line borrowed from an NS comment thread: "He wished he could come back and say No, No No, but in his case it's a bit more like No, Maybe, Oh go on then." (On David Cameron and the EU budget. Hats off to Bill Kristol-Balls)

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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