Ed Miliband speaks at the Scottish Labour conference on March 21, 2014 in Perth, Scotland. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Labour's left and right are growing restive

The right want Ed Miliband to be more "pro-business". The left want him to abandon austerity. His challenge is to hold the centre. 

In the opening years of the parliament, when growth was stagnant and unemployment was rising, Labour could reliably score points at the government's expense. But the strength of the belated economic recovery means it is now much harder to do so. After abandoning its attack on the coalition for cutting "too far, too fast", Labour has profited in the last year from its relentless focus on living standards. But the return of wage rises means that the potency of this attack is likely to diminish between now and the election (even if, for many, the squeeze goes on). With the Tories ahead in the polls on leadership and managing the economy, two reliable long-term indicators of the general election result, and Labour's headline lead far slimmer than a year ago, MPs are growing increasingly uneasy about the party's message. One former shadow cabinet minister told me: "People still don't have a clear idea of what we would do differently in government. We're not generating the enthusiasm we need a year before an election." 

In the last day, two other former shadow ministers have broken cover. From the party's right, former business minister Pat McFadden told Newsnight: "I want to see a Labour Party that takes wealth creation every bit as seriously as its fair distribution. I’m all for justice and fairness in the work place. But you have got to create wealth too." This echoed what Alan Milburn wrote in the FT on Monday when he called for "Labour to embrace a more avowedly pro-business agenda and match it with a more overtly pro-business tone. The Eds need to say it and look like they really mean it." Their fear is that while empathising with the public's anger over extortionate prices and stagnant wages, Labour will look as if it doesn't have the answers required for the hard work of government. 

From the party's left comes a different message. In an article for the Guardian yesterday, Diane Abbott took aim at Ed Balls over his decision to match the coalition's spending levels in 2015-16 and to embrace policies such as a cap for welfare spending. She wrote: "Party members might well ask, in between knocking on doors trying to persuade people to come out and vote in the May elections, what is the Labour leadership's plan to restore confidence in our economic leadership? Balls has a plan. He just does not feel able to spell it out to party members. It is called embracing Tory austerity...And the problem with restoring Labour's reputation for economic management is that we have allowed the coalition to frame the debate."

And concluded: "If we accept the coalition cuts agenda, there will be another £25bn worth of public spending cuts needed after the 2015 election. They will be the deepest since 1948. It is difficult to see how a Labour government that implemented cuts on that scale could last more than one term. So the urgency of framing an alternative to coalition austerity is not just about one month's polls. It is about the long-term survival of an incoming Labour government." For Abbott and the left, the danger is that Labour's fails to represent a genuine alternative to Conservative austerity, leaving voters with little incentive to turn out next May. 

But for others, the danger is not that Labour appears too committed to austerity but that it still appears too profligate. One self-described shadow cabinet "hawk" recently told me that the party needed to "shout much more loudly" about its pledges to eliminate the current deficit and reduce the national debt (as a share of GDP) by the end of the parliament. "We've got tough targets but no one knows about them," he lamented.

For Ed Miliband, the challenge is to hold the centre. His mantra remains that Labour must offer both "credibility" and "radicalism". Unless it commits to tough policies in areas such as public spending, voters won't trust it with the reins of government. But unless it also offers a distinctive alternative to the coalition, they won't believe that it can make a difference - and will stick with the devil that they know.

To this end, while promising to continue public spending cuts, Labour has pledged to freeze energy prices, to build 200,000 homes a year by 2020, to abolish the bedroom tax, to reintroduce the 50p tax rate and to guarantee work for all young people unemployed for more than a year and all adults unemployed for more than two. Similarly radical policies on childcare, social care, tuition fees and transport are likely to follow. But as concern over the nature of Labour's offer grows, the party will find it harder than ever to keep its nerve. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images/AFP
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Is Yvette Cooper surging?

The bookmakers and Westminster are in a flurry. Is Yvette Cooper going to win after all? I'm not convinced. 

Is Yvette Cooper surging? The bookmakers have cut her odds, making her the second favourite after Jeremy Corbyn, and Westminster – and Labour more generally – is abuzz with chatter that it will be her, not Corbyn, who becomes leader on September 12. Are they right? A couple of thoughts:

I wouldn’t trust the bookmakers’ odds as far as I could throw them

When Jeremy Corbyn first entered the race his odds were at 100 to 1. When he secured the endorsement of Unite, Britain’s trade union, his odds were tied with Liz Kendall, who nobody – not even her closest allies – now believes will win the Labour leadership. When I first tipped the Islington North MP for the top job, his odds were still at 3 to 1.

Remember bookmakers aren’t trying to predict the future, they’re trying to turn a profit. (As are experienced betters – when Cooper’s odds were long, it was good sense to chuck some money on there, just to secure a win-win scenario. I wouldn’t be surprised if Burnham’s odds improve a bit as some people hedge for a surprise win for the shadow health secretary, too.)

I still don’t think that there is a plausible path to victory for Yvette Cooper

There is a lively debate playing out – much of it in on The Staggers – about which one of Cooper or Burnham is best-placed to stop Corbyn. Team Cooper say that their data shows that their candidate is the one to stop Corbyn. Team Burnham, unsurprisingly, say the reverse. But Team Kendall, the mayoral campaigns, and the Corbyn team also believe that it is Burnham, not Cooper, who can stop Corbyn.

They think that the shadow health secretary is a “bad bank”: full of second preferences for Corbyn. One senior Blairite, who loathes Burnham with a passion, told me that “only Andy can stop Corbyn, it’s as simple as that”.

I haven’t seen a complete breakdown of every CLP nomination – but I have seen around 40, and they support that argument. Luke Akehurst, a cheerleader for Cooper, published figures that support the “bad bank” theory as well.   Both YouGov polls show a larger pool of Corbyn second preferences among Burnham’s votes than Cooper’s.

But it doesn’t matter, because Andy Burnham can’t make the final round anyway

The “bad bank” row, while souring relations between Burnhamettes and Cooperinos even further, is interesting but academic.  Either Jeremy Corbyn will win outright or he will face Cooper in the final round. If Liz Kendall is eliminated, her second preferences will go to Cooper by an overwhelming margin.

Yes, large numbers of Kendall-supporting MPs are throwing their weight behind Burnham. But Kendall’s supporters are overwhelmingly giving their second preferences to Cooper regardless. My estimate, from both looking at CLP nominations and speaking to party members, is that around 80 to 90 per cent of Kendall’s second preferences will go to Cooper. Burnham’s gaffes – his “when it’s time” remark about Labour having a woman leader, that he appears to have a clapometer instead of a moral compass – have discredited him in him the eyes of many. While Burnham has shrunk, Cooper has grown. And for others, who can’t distinguish between Burnham and Cooper, they’d prefer to have “a crap woman rather than another crap man” in the words of one.

This holds even for Kendall backers who believe that Burnham is a bad bank. A repeated refrain from her supporters is that they simply couldn’t bring themselves to give Burnham their 2nd preference over Cooper. One senior insider, who has been telling his friends that they have to opt for Burnham over Cooper, told me that “faced with my own paper, I can’t vote for that man”.

Interventions from past leaders fall on deaf ears

A lot has happened to change the Labour party in recent years, but one often neglected aspect is this: the Labour right has lost two elections on the bounce. Yes, Ed Miliband may have rejected most of New Labour’s legacy and approach, but he was still a protégé of Gordon Brown and included figures like Rachel Reeves, Ed Balls and Jim Murphy in his shadow cabinet.  Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham were senior figures during both defeats. And the same MPs who are now warning that Corbyn will doom the Labour Party to defeat were, just months ago, saying that Miliband was destined for Downing Street and only five years ago were saying that Gordon Brown was going to stay there.

Labour members don’t trust the press

A sizeable number of Labour party activists believe that the media is against them and will always have it in for them. They are not listening to articles about Jeremy Corbyn’s past associations or reading analyses of why Labour lost. Those big, gamechanging moments in the last month? Didn’t change anything.

100,000 people didn’t join the Labour party on deadline day to vote against Jeremy Corbyn

On the last day of registration, so many people tried to register to vote in the Labour leadership election that they broke the website. They weren’t doing so on the off-chance that the day after, Yvette Cooper would deliver the speech of her life. Yes, some of those sign-ups were duplicates, and 3,000 of them have been “purged”.  That still leaves an overwhelmingly large number of sign-ups who are going to go for Corbyn.

It doesn’t look as if anyone is turning off Corbyn

Yes, Sky News’ self-selecting poll is not representative of anything other than enthusiasm. But, equally, if Yvette Cooper is really going to beat Jeremy Corbyn, surely, surely, she wouldn’t be in third place behind Liz Kendall according to Sky’s post-debate poll. Surely she wouldn’t have been the winner according to just 6.1 per cent of viewers against Corbyn’s 80.7 per cent. 

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