Ed Miliband must introduce some passion into his politics. Photo: Getty
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Ed Miliband must realise that next year’s election will be won on emotion

The Labour leader needs to appeal to human feeling to truly unite the United Kingdom, and be in with a chance of electoral success.

The picture for Labour in Scotland is looking bleak. Latest polling from Ipsos Mori has found that 52 per cent of Scots will be voting for the SNP in next year’s general election, with only 23% intending to back Labour. No fewer than 12 Labour constituencies voted Yes in September’s Scottish independence referendum and Nicola Sturgeon has taken the reigns as First Minister with renewed vigor, with SNP membership tripling since the vote.

Last week, it was estimated that Labour would lose 15 seats to the SNP. Now it could be as many as 36 of their 41 seats – a historic moment of major catastrophe in British politics. Without strong support in Scotland, Labour will face a humiliating defeat come May. The Scottish issue should be of concern to the entire party, not just those in the region, as it could very well lose Labour the election.

We know that modern-day politics is all about emotion. The surge of support for the SNP is evidence of this. Next year’s election will be won on human feelings. The emotional momentum that used to be the domain of the left has now seeped into the whole of mainstream politics.

The No contingent in the referendum campaign realised this only at the last moment, saving the Union by the skin of their teeth. The Yes had all the good songs, all the best soundbites, until the usually-sullen Gordon Brown erupted into righteous, Calvinistic anger at the prospect of the Union being torn asunder. Finally, here was a rhetoric that is at the level of the issues at stake. This is what Labour needs to do to give itself a chance of victory in May.

Making a last-dash attempt to squeeze over the 35 per cent line is a suicidal strategy, one which will alienate much of the electorate and even the party faithful. Politics is about emotion and the performance of emotion. Labour must pull out all the stops to appeal to the emotions of the electorate, not through any kind of manipulation or sentimentalism, but through talking clearly, coherently, accurately and passionately about the issues at stake.

It is a myth that London doesn’t care about Glasgow and that the Labour Party in Westminster treat Scottish Labour as nothing more than a branch office. But this is a dangerous myth, one that many people across the UK believe to be true. The reason why so many people put stock in this myth is because it echoes a deep-seated belief that the political ‘centre’ or elite are cavalier or even apathetic to the fringes.

The only way to counter damaging myths is with strong performance. You do not allow anyone to suspect that you may go back on promises already made (for example, on devolution), another powerful and damaging myth, or that you do not listen to those outside London. Ed Miliband has defended against leadership attacks within his own party by developing a narrative of a party united. He now needs to do more to make this a national narrative of a country united, one that includes Scotland and persuades the electorate and party supporters that they are and will be listened to by Labour. As leader of the Labour Party, Miliband must be a strong, rallying figure and get on stage and perform this, alongside a renewed and preferably federal Scottish Labour Party and some real policies about reducing poverty and income disparity and involving people in politics.

The United Kingdom is our national story, one which has emotional resonance with us all. My mother – a Glaswegian – and my father – a Dubliner – met in London as young British workers. This emotional appeal of Britishness must be used by Miliband to illustrate the essence of a properly United Kingdom. Miliband must make the Scots want to elect a Labour government in 2015. Without Scotland, Labour will fail in May. Miliband must tell the Scots why those 40 MPs are needed, both for Scotland and for us all.

John Gaffney is professor of politics at Aston University and co-director of the Aston Centre for Europe. He is currently completing a two-year study of UK political leadership, with a focus on the narrative of Ed Miliband’s leadership.

John Gaffney is the co-director of the Aston Centre for Europe, specialising in French politics and the discourse of leadership.

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Everyone's forgotten the one issue that united the Labour party

There was a time when Ed Miliband spoke at Momentum rallies.

To label the row over the EU at Thursday’s Labour leadership hustings "fireworks" would be to endow it with more beauty than it deserves. Owen Smith’s dogged condemnation of John McDonnell’s absence from a Remain rally – only for Corbyn to point out that his absence was for medical reasons – ought to go down as a cringing new low point in the campaign. 

Not so long ago, we were all friends. In the course of the EU referendum, almost all of the protagonists in the current debacle spoke alongside each other and praised one another’s efforts. At a local level, party activists of all stripes joined forces. Two days before polling day, Momentum activists helped organise an impromptu rally. Ed Miliband was the headline speaker, and was cheered on. 

If you take the simple version of the debate, Labour’s schism on the EU appears as an aberration of the usual dynamics of left and right in the party. Labour's left is supposedly cheering a position which avoids advocating what it believes in (Remain), because it would lose votes. Meanwhile, the right claims to be dying in a ditch for its principles - no matter what the consequences for Labour’s support in Leave-voting heartlands.

Smith wants to oppose Brexit, even after the vote, on the basis of using every available procedural mechanism. He would whip MPs against the invocation of Article 50, refuse to implement it in government, and run on a manifesto of staying in the EU. For the die-hard Europhiles on the left – and I count myself among these, having run the Another Europe is Possible campaign during the referendum – there ought to be no contest as to who to support. On a result that is so damaging to people’s lives and so rooted in prejudice, how could we ever accept that there is such a thing as a "final word"? 

And yet, on the basic principles that lie behind a progressive version of EU membership, such as freedom of movement, Smith seems to contradict himself. Right at the outset of the Labour leadership, Smith took to Newsnight to express his view – typical of many politicians moulded in the era of New Labour – that Labour needed to “listen” to the views Leave voters by simply adopting them, regardless of whether or not they were right. There were, he said, “too many” immigrants in some parts of the country. 

Unlike Smith, Corbyn has not made his post-Brexit policy a headline feature of the campaign, and it is less widely understood. But it is clear, via the five "red lines" outlined by John McDonnell at the end of June:

  1. full access to the single market
  2. membership of the European investment bank
  3. access to trading rights for financial services sector
  4. full residency rights for all EU nationals in the UK and all UK nationals in the EU, and
  5. the enshrinement of EU protections for workers. 

Without these five conditions being met, Labour would presumably not support the invocation of Article 50. So if, as seems likely, a Conservative government would never meet these five conditions, would there be any real difference in how a Corbyn leadership would handle the situation? 

The fight over the legacy of the referendum is theatrical at times. The mutual mistrust last week played out on the stage in front of a mass televised audience. Some Corbyn supporters jeered Smith as he made the case for another referendum. Smith accused Corbyn of not even voting for Remain, and wouldn’t let it go. But, deep down, the division is really about a difference of emphasis. 

It speaks to a deeper truth about the future of Britain in Europe. During the referendum, the establishment case for Remain floundered because it refused to make the case that unemployment and declining public services were the result of austerity, not immigrants. Being spearheaded by Conservatives, it couldn’t. It fell to the left to offer the ideological counter attack that was needed – and we failed to reach enough people. 

As a result, what we got was a popular mandate for petty racism and a potentially long-term shift to the right in British politics, endangering a whole raft of workplace and legal protections along the way. Now that it has happened, anyone who really hopes to overcome either Brexit, or the meaning of Brexit, has to address the core attitudes and debates at their root. Then as now, it is only clear left-wing ideas – free from any attempt to triangulate towards anti-migrant sentiment– that can have any hope of success. 

The real dividing lines in Labour are not about the EU. If they were, the Eurosceptic Frank Field would not be backing Smith. For all that it may be convenient to deny it, Europe was once, briefly, the issue that united the Labour Party. One day, the issues at stake in the referendum may do so again – but only if Labour consolidates itself around a strategy for convincing people of ideas, rather than simply reaching for procedural levers.