Ed Miliband is shaping the news agenda, unlike his opponents. Photo: Getty
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"Gamed out"? At least Ed Miliband's in the news cycle

Labour's policy review chief was recorded saying his leader is being "gamed out" by the media. But at least Ed's making the news, unlike his political opponents.

Many people in politics over the past few weeks have been saying that the Labour party is having a torrid time. Rumours and leaks of backstabbing and splits in the Labour leader’s circle have sprung up alongside an onslaught of negative commentary about Ed Miliband, both from the media and some within his own party.

One source close to the shadow cabinet tells me that the feeling in the party is “pretty bad”, and that they’d “hate to be a Labour politician right now, least of all Ed Miliband.”

Another Labour figure tells me about factions working against each other within the top tiers of the party, and I’ve heard from a number of insiders about blue on blue (well, red on red) negative briefings from certain Labour frontbench teams.

So it’s not just the press taking opportune pictures of bacon butties. The party is being affected by ragged relations at the top as well, and all this is in spite of a fairly stubborn poll lead.

Following an intervention in the Financial Times by Labour peer and Miliband’s former adviser Maurice Glasman, who accused the leader of “conformist mediocrity” and said the party is missing a “sense of direction”, and Labour policy review chief Jon Cruddas referring to a “dead hand” at the party’s centre blocking reforms, the latter made headlines again last week when a recording of him warning that Miliband is being “gamed out” by the press was leaked to the Telegraph:

“He just gets gamed out every day, every week because of the news cycle, the media, levels of intrusion, the party management side.”

But it only seems as if the Labour leader is being “gamed out” because he’s actually part of the news cycle, setting the news agenda a number of times in the past few weeks from a whole host of policy proposals including a radical shake-up of benefits for young people, transforming local government, wooing business, and a strong stance on rail policy and ownership, among many others.

Of course he’s going to be knocked down occasionally by those opposing his plans, and of course he’s going to have a few bits of data questioned by those scrutinising the proposals of our potential next government. But at least he’s going out there, almost every day, unveiling the plans he’d like to put into action if he were to become prime minister next year.

Miliband’s perseverance, both in powering on with his proposals, and ignoring pops at his personality, is a lot more than we’ve seen any of the other parties doing recently. As the Telegraph’s Peter Oborne wrote earlier this month: “Every day Mr Miliband arrives in his office, takes off his coat, and takes the bullets. I salute him.”

If Miliband is being “gamed out”, then our current PM isn’t even in the game. Where has he been? India? Or was it Scotland? All we’ve seen of our PM, and indeed DPM, is a recent announcement of emergency powers being rushed through for police surveillance – legislation at worst a hurried invasion of our civil liberties and at best a bit of a dull, technical response to some crusty EU directive. And something to do with strikes, which is just a bit passé and Eighties, really.

“I know it looks like Ed’s personal ratings are going down,” a Labour aide admits, “but at least he has ideas. This government is simply not legislating.”

And it’s true. There is very little coming from the coalition frontbench of any interest to the media at least, unless you count the unplanned fire-fighting of stories that suddenly emerge, such as the recent Eighties Westminster paedophile ring allegations, which eventually sprung the Home Secretary into action.

There’s a big, and favourable, contrast between a whole heap of proper policies from Ed Miliband – even if they are being ruthlessly scrutinised ­– and a government that briefed out a tax on plastic bags as the centrepiece of their final Queen’s Speech. Forget "game out", that's called "game over".

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at 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.