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  1. Politics
13 November 2014updated 12 Oct 2023 10:42am

What Ed Miliband must achieve in his fight-back today

This morning, the Labour leader will deliver a speech to "relaunch" his leadership after a precarious few weeks. What does he need to do?

By Anoosh Chakelian

This morning, Ed Miliband will deliver a big speech in what is being reported as an attempt to “relaunch” his leadership, following a near crisis of confidence in his position that unfolded last week.

The Tories are joyfully pointing out that this is his tenth such speech intended to secure his position and shore up support since 2010, and indeed, this is a regular theme in Miliband’s running of Labour: the party declines in popularity, its policies don’t cut through, and then Miliband makes an impressive speech – usually at the annual party conference, though he comprehensively didn’t deliver this year – that brings his troops a fleeting morale boost. Today, he needs to break this pattern and deliver an address that will be the start of a positive trajectory for Labour. It is unfortunate that it comes the day following Ipsos MORI’s poll that puts the Conservatives three points ahead.

So what does Miliband need to do?

Acknowledge the problem

Although it is a dangerous tactic to give traction to your critics, it is crucial that Miliband accepts that there have been wobbles in his leadership. His supporters doing the media circuit in the past few days decrying the right-wing press and “Westminster bubble” for such stories about disloyalty in his party sound ridiculous. The former because it was us at the New Statesman that fired the warning shot last week, a catalyst for his crisis, followed closely by an Observer story about 20 shadow ministers on the brink of calling for him to go. The latter because the plummeting popularity ratings of Ed Miliband are from polls of the general public, not Westminster, and the “Westminster bubble” story retort is only ever used as a last-ditch defence by those who are part of it.

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Miliband has already begun admitting that there have been problems, for example, in his interview out today with the BBC’s Nick Robinson, he concedes, his “mettle had been tested”, concluding, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” He needs to do a bit more of this to show that he is not completely removed from the mutterings and reservations in the PLP.

Big up the rest of his shadow cabinet

It is significant that very few people in Ed Miliband’s team are well-known in the public eye, even those who have been in their posts since the beginning of his leadership. David Cameron, in contrast, has figures like George Osborne, William Hague, Michael Gove and Theresa May, all of whom are recognisable – even if they’re not universally liked by the electorate. As Miliband continues to wallow at the bottom of personal ratings polls, it’s clear he has to use the better performers around him, building a more collegiate shadow cabinet in the process, to appeal to the public. Shadow cabinet secretaries like Chuka Umunna, Andy Burnham and Tristram Hunt are considered impressive performers in the party.

However, the dilemma here is obvious. A Labour aide points out to me, “he needs to do more with these people, because at the moment they’re just muzzled on the sidelines. But he’s scared that if he bigs them up too much then he could be handing the spotlight to his rivals.” Indeed, Umunna and Burnham in particular are often cited as potential leadership candidates.

Be radical

For all the condemnation of Miliband as leader, his policy programme has escaped similar criticism. In general, particularly in the leftwing press, his agenda for rebalancing the economy, rescuing the NHS, freezing energy prices, and dramatic devolution, among many other fairly radical proposals, is considered by now to be quite a coherent plan for government. There are two problems: he has been unable to communicate this to voters, and he hasn’t gone far enough.

One area where he did have cut-through was his energy price freeze. One CCHQ source admits, “that was good. It took us completely by surprise and it took a long time for us to recover.” Miliband needs a few more of these show-stopping, radical ideas – preferably ones where the Tories’ only response can be to cry “Red Ed” without really having an answer – to make the public aware that Labour is not afraid to intervene in areas thought to be reserved solely for market forces.

In his speech today, he mentions a “zero-zero economy” caused by people being exploited on zero-hours contracts, and those at the top who “get away with zero tax”. He must have an idea for tackling this, which will hopefully up his quota of radical proposals. My colleague George suggests it could be a minimum tax rate. I believe a new, detailed, plan for cracking down on tax avoidance should be on the way.

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