After the establishment onslaught against the Scottish Yes campaign in the last fortnight, commentators are warning that Labour will face a similar blitzkrieg next May. Under the aegis of Lynton Crosby (a devotee of negative campaigning), the Tories will mobilise FTSE 100 CEOs, third-party fronts and media supporters in an attempt to convince voters that the UK (or what’s left of it) would face economic ruin under Ed Miliband. As the Guardian’s political editor Patrick Wintour tweeted: “The alliance of business, media and Treasury attacking the SNP is formidable. Ed Miliband should worry. He will be on the menu in 2015.”
But if so, Labour may have less to fear than some suggest. One of the most striking features of the independence campaign has been how the establishment attacks have, if anything, only aided the Yes campaign. Voters already enduring collapsing living standards are unmoved by warnings of economic dystopia, and find themselves drawn to the promise of an alternative. Independence, a cause which for so long attracted the support of no more than a third of Scots, can now plausibly dream of winning a majority tomorrow. It is only by balancing its negative attacks with a positive promise of further devolution and of social justice (courtesy of Gordon Brown) that the No campaign has been able to recover ground.
Unlike the pro-independence side, Miliband may enjoy the advantage of entering the election with a poll lead. He will face a Conservative Party that has failed to detoxify its brand and that will struggle to hold the many seats in which the Lib Dem vote has collapsed and the Ukip vote has surged.
Beyond the Scottish experience, it is worth noting that Miliband’s strongest moments have often come precisely when he has been attacked by powerful interests: the energy companies, the banks, the Daily Mail, and News Corporation (in what he describes as “David vs Goliath” contests). The Labour leader will certainly be on the menu in 2015, but as the conservative right has already discovered, he may be harder to devour than they hope.
The greater challenge for Labour will be persuading voters that it itself is not part of the establishment they loathe. As the rise of the SNP, Ukip, and, increasingly, the Greens demonstrates, voters alienated by the coalition are all too often drawn to parties other than the official opposition. It is this anti-politics mood, not the establishment, that may be Miliband’s greatest foe.