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.

Chuka Umunna speaks at the launch of Labour's education manifesto during the general election. Photograph: Getty Images.
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After so badly misjudging the leadership contest, how will the Blairites handle Corbyn?

The left-winger's opponents are divided between conciliation and aggression. 

When Labour lost the general election in May, the party’s modernisers sensed an opportunity. Ed Miliband, one of the most left-wing members of the shadow cabinet, had been unambiguously rejected and the Tories had achieved their first majority in 23 years. More than any other section of the party, the Blairites could claim to have foreseen such an outcome. Surely the pendulum would swing their way?

Yet now, as Labour’s leadership contest reaches its denouement, those on the right are asking themselves how they misjudged the landscape so badly. Their chosen candidate, Liz Kendall, is expected to finish a poor fourth and the party is poised to elect Jeremy Corbyn, the most left-wing leader in its 115-year history. For a faction that never ceases to underline the importance of winning elections, it will be a humbling result.

Though the crash has been sudden, the Blairites have long been in decline. Gordon Brown won the leadership unchallenged and senior figures such as John Reid, James Purnell and Alan Milburn chose to depart from the stage rather than fight on. In 2010, David Miliband, the front-runner in the leadership election, lost to his brother after stubbornly refusing to distance himself from the Iraq war and alienating undecided MPs with his imperiousness.

When the younger Miliband lost, the modernisers moved fast – too fast. “They’re behaving like family members taking jewellery off a corpse,” a rival campaign source told me on 9 May. Many Labour supporters agreed. The rush of op-eds and media interviews antagonised a membership that wanted to grieve in peace. The modernising contenders – Chuka Umunna, Liz Kendall, Mary Creagh, Tristram Hunt – gave the impression that the Blairites wanted to drown out all other voices. “It was a huge mistake for so many players from that wing of the party to be put into the field,” a shadow cabinet minister told me. “In 1994, forces from the soft left to the modernising right united around Tony Blair. The lesson is never again can we have multiple candidates.”

While conducting their post-mortem, the Blairites are grappling with the question of how to handle Corbyn. For some, the answer is simple. “There shouldn’t be an accommodation with Corbyn,” John McTernan, Blair’s former director of political operations, told me. “Corbyn is a disaster and he should be allowed to be his own disaster.” But most now adopt a more conciliatory tone. John Woodcock, the chair of Progress, told me: “If he wins, he will be the democratically elected leader and I don’t think there will be any serious attempt to actually depose him or to make it impossible for him to lead.”

Umunna, who earlier rebuked his party for “behaving like a petulant child”, has emphasised that MPs “must accept the result of our contest when it comes and support our new leader in developing an agenda that can return Labour to office”. The shadow business secretary even suggests that he would be prepared to discuss serving in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet if he changed his stances on issues such as nuclear disarmament, Nato, the EU and taxation. Were Umunna, a former leadership contender, to adopt a policy of aggression, he would risk being blamed should Corbyn fail.

Suggestions that the new parliamentary group Labour for the Common Good represents “the resistance” are therefore derided by those close to it. The organisation, which was launched by Umunna and Hunt before Corbyn’s surge, is aimed instead at ensuring the intellectual renewal that modernisers acknowledge has been absent since 2007. It will also try to unite the party’s disparate mainstream factions: the Blairites, the Brownites, the soft left, the old right and Blue Labour. The ascent of Corbyn, who has the declared support of just 15 MPs (6.5 per cent of the party), has persuaded many that they cannot afford the narcissism of small differences. “We need to start working together and not knocking lumps out of each other,” Woodcock says. There will be no defections, no SDP Mk II. “Jeremy’s supporters really underestimate how Labour to the core the modernisers are,” Pat McFadden, the shadow Europe minister, told me.

Although they will not change their party, the Blairites are also not prepared to change their views. “Those of us on this side of Labour are always accused of being willing to sell out for power,” a senior moderniser told me. “Well, we do have political principles and they’re not up for bartering.” He continued: “Jeremy Corbyn is not a moderate . . .
He’s an unreconstructed Bennite who regards the British army as morally equivalent to the IRA. I’m not working with that.”

Most MPs believe that Corbyn will fail but they are divided on when. McFadden has predicted that the left-winger “may even get a poll bounce in the short term, because he’s new and thinking differently”. A member of the shadow cabinet suggested that Labour could eventually fall to as low as 15 per cent in the polls and lose hundreds of councillors.

The challenge for the Blairites is to reboot themselves in time to appear to be an attractive alternative if and when Corbyn falters. Some draw hope from the performance of Tessa Jowell, who they still believe will win the London mayoral selection. “I’ve spoken to people who are voting enthusiastically both for Jeremy and for Tessa,” Wes Streeting, the newly elected MP for Ilford North, said. “They have both run very optimistic, hopeful, positive campaigns.”

But if Corbyn falls, it does not follow that the modernisers will rise. “The question is: how do we stop it happening again if he does go?” a senior frontbencher said. “He’s got no interest or incentive to change the voting method. We could lose nurse and end up with something worse.” If the road back to power is long for Labour, it is longest of all for the Blairites. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 03 September 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Pope of the masses