Cameron's weakness is Miliband's strength

The electorate doesn't need to like its prime ministers but lack of strength never plays well.

Forget the LOLs. The most surprising moment of Rebekah Brooks's evidence to the Leveson inquiry on Friday came when the former News International boss confirmed that David Cameron really did think Ed Miliband had him "on the run" last July.

Asked about a reported message -- sent via a third party -- that read "sorry I couldn’t have been as loyal to you as you have been to me, but Ed Miliband had me on the run”, Brooks admitted that the gist of the communication was correct.

Credit then to Francis Elliot of the Times and James Hanning of the Independent, whose scoop features in the updated biography of the PM, Cameron: Practically a Conservative. And hands up those of us who thought the reported message was too far fetched.

It's not so much that Miliband wasn't making life awkward for Cameron over News of the World/Milly Dowler revelations last summer; it's more the unlikelihood that Cameron would ever admit (even in private) that the Labour leader was besting him. Cameron may not be the "arrogant posh boy" of Nadine Dorries's imagining but he's not one to show weakness.

What's interesting to observe is that the electoral dividend Miliband gained by going after Rupert Murdoch and co last July has echoes today as Cameron suffers by association with the same people.

A YouGov poll in today's Sunday Times not only puts Labour 12 points ahead of the Tories (Labour 43 per cent, Conservatives 31 per cent, Lib Dems 10 per cent, others 17 per cent), but it shows a personal ratings swing towards Miliband and away from Cameron.

In the race to be the least disliked (this is modern politics, after all), Miliband is on minus 23, up from minus 33, while Cameron is on minus 29

As YouGov's Anthony Wells notes: 

This is the first time [Miliband] has enjoyed a higher approval rating than Cameron since last July (just after the hacking scandal), and only the second time he has done so since being elected as Labour leader.

Moreover, when asked whether Cameron is a strong or weak leader, 40 per cent say he is weak. That's up 10 points from when the same question was asked in March. Meanwhile, only 26 per cent think he's strong. 

The electorate doesn't need to like its prime ministers but perceptions of weakness never play well.

Miliband has often struggled to present himself as a decisive leader -- too often portrayed as in the pockets of the unions, in the shadow of his elder brother or at the receiving end from Cameron at PMQs. But right now it's the PM who is failing to convince people that he's in charge. 

The ever readable Alex Massie summed up Cameron's problem in a Spectator blog post entitled "Weak, Weak, Weak: Cameron's Brooks Affair Will Haunt Him". Massie wrote:

The more details emerge of Cameron's contacts with Brooks and the rest of the News International set the worse it looks like being for the PM.

The polls certainly appear to reflect that view.

 

Ed Miliband and David Cameron, 9 May 2012. Credit: Getty Images

Jon Bernstein, former deputy editor of New Statesman, is a digital strategist and editor. He tweets @Jon_Bernstein. 

Photo: Getty
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What Jeremy Corbyn gets right about the single market

Technically, you can be outside the EU but inside the single market. Philosophically, you're still in the EU. 

I’ve been trying to work out what bothers me about the response to Jeremy Corbyn’s interview on the Andrew Marr programme.

What bothers me about Corbyn’s interview is obvious: the use of the phrase “wholesale importation” to describe people coming from Eastern Europe to the United Kingdom makes them sound like boxes of sugar rather than people. Adding to that, by suggesting that this “importation” had “destroy[ed] conditions”, rather than laying the blame on Britain’s under-enforced and under-regulated labour market, his words were more appropriate to a politician who believes that immigrants are objects to be scapegoated, not people to be served. (Though perhaps that is appropriate for the leader of the Labour Party if recent history is any guide.)

But I’m bothered, too, by the reaction to another part of his interview, in which the Labour leader said that Britain must leave the single market as it leaves the European Union. The response to this, which is technically correct, has been to attack Corbyn as Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland are members of the single market but not the European Union.

In my view, leaving the single market will make Britain poorer in the short and long term, will immediately render much of Labour’s 2017 manifesto moot and will, in the long run, be a far bigger victory for right-wing politics than any mere election. Corbyn’s view, that the benefits of freeing a British government from the rules of the single market will outweigh the costs, doesn’t seem very likely to me. So why do I feel so uneasy about the claim that you can be a member of the single market and not the European Union?

I think it’s because the difficult truth is that these countries are, de facto, in the European Union in any meaningful sense. By any estimation, the three pillars of Britain’s “Out” vote were, firstly, control over Britain’s borders, aka the end of the free movement of people, secondly, more money for the public realm aka £350m a week for the NHS, and thirdly control over Britain’s own laws. It’s hard to see how, if the United Kingdom continues to be subject to the free movement of people, continues to pay large sums towards the European Union, and continues to have its laws set elsewhere, we have “honoured the referendum result”.

None of which changes my view that leaving the single market would be a catastrophe for the United Kingdom. But retaining Britain’s single market membership starts with making the argument for single market membership, not hiding behind rhetorical tricks about whether or not single market membership was on the ballot last June, when it quite clearly was. 

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