Labour can win in 2015. But there is a very long way to go

People like Miliband, they just don’t yet view him as a prime minister.

People like Ed Miliband, they just don’t yet view him as a prime minister

I voted Green for the first time at yesterday’s European elections. I just about stumbled over the Labour line on my local ballot, but just couldn’t bring myself to do so for Europe. I am a party member, have always voted Labour previously, and it remains extremely likely I will do so in 2015 – there’s just no place to go.

And yet Labour are clearly all over the place at present. It is a small point but, like all members, I received an email earlier in the week asking if I was ‘planning to use my vote.’ Clicking yes, it took me to a page thanking me for voting Labour. That, as it turned out, was clearly not in the bag. It was a brief window into the world of Jim Grant – being told I was doing a good job from a position of ignorance.

There is just a general disconnect at present. Partly, Labour seem to define their success or failure by receiving a positive write-up from the Guardian or New Statesman. Voting for a party that often appears more desperate for Polly Toynbee to tweet ‘Positive intervention from X’ is just an odd prospect. It’s hard to really be ‘up’ for that. Similarly, David Axelrod may or may not be a great strategist, but he should not have become a ‘story’ himself. Nobody outside SW1 cares.

Paradoxically, after the relative vacuum of 2012/13, the broad policy is actually shaping up. Strengthening the minimum wage. Wealth/financial sector taxation to fund policies on childcare and the 10p rate. A British Investment Bank to facilitate lending to small business. Devolving power to local councils. Even if they should be going further on all things, these are all popular policies that should be an easier sell than they appear to be.

And yet the brass tacks on this stuff remains a bit mysterious. Just yelling ‘British Investment Bank’ against figures on lending to small business isn’t particularly coherent when nobody knows how much capital that bank will have. If the Coalition created an ‘Economic Miracles Agency’ and just claimed it would solve all problems then Labour would probably be rightly sceptical.

Similarly, until Labour set the threshold as to where the 10p band will be (and it had better be significant), the Coalition’s raising of the personal allowance will always beat it. UKIP would get away with the vagaries on this, Labour won’t.

This is a problem because UKIP manifestly are hitting Labour in some areas. In marginal constituencies where UKIP are poorly represented like Cambridge, Ipswich, Stevenage and across London, Labour appear to have done well. But in seats where there is strong UKIP presence, like Thurrock and Basildon, both Labour and the Tories have lost seats.

In some seats, sure, the UKIP factor will help Labour, but they won’t just harm the Tories. Labour needs to wake up ahead of 2015. If the best case scenario is stumbling over the line due to winning the UKIP lottery then something clearly is going wrong.

I voted Green, but that is not a call for the party to swing to the left. The number one Green candidate in my region, Rupert Read, is a good and decent politician and that made the decision easier. He would be a positive addition to the European Parliament, and I hope he forwards a positive line in particular on the proposed Financial Transaction Tax.

I’m not against Labour being mature grown-ups and saying elements of Coalition policy will stay. In fact, rather than answering every question ‘here’s what we are not going to do…’ Labour would arguably be better advised to say ‘the government has been right to look at X, however we feel that more is needed on Y’.

To talk, in other words, like normal people conduct their daily lives – whether in terms of business, family and friends – rather than the slightly sneery Oxbridge tone currently adopted. Yes Clegg and Cameron do it too, but presumably that is not the bar.

As to the leader, Ed Miliband (bolstered no doubt by Jon Cruddas’ Policy Review) has created a series of interesting policies that can shape a social democratic government which will make Britain a better place. But he is not the guy to sell them to the British people. The charge against UKIP is that it is a one-man band – is the same not true of Labour at present? And actually it is worse, because the conductor isn’t viewed universally well by those who might vote for him.

As I’ve said before, 2015 needs to be about the ensemble, not just the leading man. Miliband should retreat to seriousness. He should promote those who, bluntly, sound more ‘normal’ to do the campaigning and should give a series of serious speeches. Less selfies, more lecterns.

People like Miliband, they just don’t view him as a prime minister yet. It would better to sacrifice a little of the former to gain a bit more on the latter. Miliband may go on to be a transformational centre-left leader like Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but the party needs to stop acting like he’s John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

Labour can win in 2015. The psephology suggests they will be the largest party. But there is a long, long way to go.

Richard Carr is a lecturer at the Labour History Research Unit, Anglia Ruskin University, and a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

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