Miliband must improve his personal ratings if he wants to be prime minister

Ed Miliband's poor personal ratings will eventually catch up with the party, as we're starting to see in the polls.

Ed Miliband’s poor personal ratings will eventually catch up with the party, as we’re starting to see in the polls

On the left we like to argue that the focus in politics should always be on the content of a policy rather than the content of a politician’s character. Play the ball and not the man, as the cliché goes.

And notwithstanding any particularly egregious examples of corruption or indignity, it’s a fairly good guide to casting your vote: don’t vote for the person you’d like to have a pint with, vote for the person with the best set of policies for Britain.

The problem of course is that it doesn’t always work like that. However much we might wish otherwise, people do often vote for the leader they perceive to be more charismatic, authentic or ‘statesmanlike’. It’s another of those areas where idealists must come to terms with reality whilst simultaneously arguing for a politics based on the ideal – in this case that of policy over personality.

This isn’t to say that a solid policy offering can’t offset the unpopularity of individuals. Rather it’s an argument that, however much we might wish otherwise, personality is one of the things that influences how people vote. The Farage factor helps explain the surge of Ukip and it was, I would argue, responsible for the sheer size of Tony Blair’s majority in 1997.

It’s also, I believe, at least partly to blame for Labour losing its lead over the Tories, with two polls this week showing the Conservative party ahead for the first time since Gordon Brown’s tenure as Labour leader. The Tories are now on 33 per cent in the monthly state of the parties poll, with Labour dropping six points since April.

Policies matter hugely, but it’s silly to pretend that, in our celebrity age, people don’t base at least a part of their voting preference on personal factors. And unfortunately this doesn’t bode well for Labour. In almost every measure when set against David Cameron Miliband does worse, with his current rating languishing on minus 32 (compared to Cameron’s minus 12).

There are of course those who says that the popularity of a leader in not particularly important, and that it can be surmounted by a solid policy offering. They will usually throw this graph at you which shows the relative unpopularity of Margaret Thatcher compared to Jim Callaghan at the time of the 1979 election. The graph shows that, despite Callaghan holding a substantial lead over Thatcher in the popularity ratings, the Tories still romped home with a solid majority of 44 seats.

Polls thatcherj

(Graph: Mike Smithson)

So much for the popularity of individuals, eh?

The problem with taking the 1979 election as typical is that it was not, and the relative popularity of Jim Callaghan paled in comparison with the unpopularity of the Labour government. Callaghan may have been personally popular, but he was clearly seen as a man pushing back against the inevitable tide of history, as he himself recognised when he made his now famous comments:

“You know there are times, perhaps once every thirty years, when there is a sea-change in politics. It then does not matter what you say or what you do. There is a shift in what the public wants and what it approves of.”

While Ed Miliband likes to see himself as a conviction politician in the mould of Margaret Thatcher (and this is to be commended), it’s hard to believe that we live in an epoch making era comparable to the crisis of social democracy in the late 1970s. Unfortunatley it doesn’t yet feel like the tide of history is inexorably flowing against the coalition, especially now the economy is growing and people soon likely to feel a bit better off. Labour can’t wait for the Tories to lose the election; Labour must win it.

It’s incredibly hard to know what Miliband needs to do to improve his personal ratings. We’re straying into the realms of psychology here rather than politics. But what seems increasingly clear is that his personal ratings are a worrying Achilles heel for Labour. The right-wing press are already going after the Labour leader, and with Lynton Crosby at the helm the Tory campaign is only going to get more vicious as we approach the election.

Miliband posterj
Tory attacks are becoming increasingly personal

As much as I don’t like to admit it, politics is about personalities as much as it is about policies. And instead of fighting it, Labour needs to ask some serious questions as to why Ed remains so unpopular, before it’s too late, for the brutal truth is that Miliband is unlikely to be prime minister unless he improves his personal ratings. They will eventually catch up with the party, as we’re beginning to see in the polls.

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29 Responses to “Miliband must improve his personal ratings if he wants to be prime minister”

  1. Nick Booth

    I want to see a Prime Ministerial candidate who doesn’t give a toss about being popular.

    That’s part of Nigel Farage’s appeal.

    For some reason, many of David Miliband’s supporters went running for cover just because he was pictured holding a banana. Good grief. You wouldn’t want people like that on your side in a life or death struggle. They’d be the first ones to betray you.

  2. Kellie Strøm

    I think the headline needs switching around: Ed Miliband must give up on being prime minister if he wants to improve his personal ratings. Were he to resign as party leader, his ratings might soar, or at least go up a little.

  3. PoundInYourPocket

    In a recent poll {Populus poll for the BBC 22nd March} Cameron rated high on all these negative traits “smug/out-of-touch/arrogant/doesn’t-listen” whilst Ed was rated low on all these i.e. he is not arrogant / not smug / not out of touch and does listen. A strong set of positives in any leader. Whilst Cameron is seen by many as a “strong” leader , that often equates to “arrogant”. The negatives for Ed are “out of his depth” and “weak” , which can be improved upon once Labour issue a clear manifesto and the Labour message is banged home, showing leadership purpose and strength.

  4. David Morley

    Ed Miliband needs to do two things I think. One is show a bit of belief and passion in what he stands for. Another tory government would be ruinous for this country and he should start to show a bit of urgency. He also needs to put himself about more in the media. Find the more populist place like Blair did so that people can see the sort of person he really is (intelligent, decent, thoughtful) rather than the media cliche that is pumped out at every opportunity.

  5. swatnan

    Its too late to change Leader, lame duck as he may be, we just have to make the best of it.
    Not the first time Labour has picked a Leader that lacks personality. Perhaps next time we’ll choose someone like Chukka. A whole new generation of great new MPs lie in wait after 2015.

  6. Jimmy

    The point about 1979 was that Thatcher was an unpopular leader of the opposition but still won handily. It is a significant point when considering Ed’s chances. And if the Tories want to be nasty about him, presumably Labour have the ability to strike back?

  7. PeteCW

    “Play the ball and not the man, as the cliché goes.”

    The left is just as appalling as the right when it comes to playing the man. Incessant squeals of Bullingdon Bullies take the place of an intelligent alternative to what the Tories are doing. The Guardian is an embarrassment of petulant left wing viciousness directed at Cameron, Gove, Osborne and Johnson – the most unflattering pictures of any of them are consistently used when more neutral images would serve the purpose. Frenzied hatred is stirred up by columnists in order to rack up page clicks in order to scrape advertising cash in to save the collapsing paper. Left wing hero Steve Bell’s take on the Tories is little more than smearing shit on paper but is lauded to the skies as the pinnacle of wit and satire in the comments section. John Harris seems to be the only writer on the left who has responded to the rise of UKIP with intelligence and integrity, rather than screaming “racist! racist! racist!” at Farage and those who think it worth voting for him.

  8. Jimmy

    Well, I agree about the ineffective bleating about Ukip racism. We all need to deal with them more intelligently. But while your criticism of the Guardian is not entirely wrong, do you ever read the bile in the Telegraph, to say nothing of the Tory tabloids? The mainstream media, with the exception if the FT, are largely low grade partisan rags.

  9. treborc1

    Miliband is a complete turn off, with his hard working spin, sinc e I do not work after an accident, my wife gets a pension and my kids are in college , voting labour is a totally wasted.

    Hard working…. nope I’m not Ed then again neither are you mate.

  10. David Brede

    The thing that Ed needs to do is get out more and turn himself from a person who the public know vaguely via the unsympathetic press to someone who they can relate to.

    He is a good leader with good ideas but the public have yet to see this.

  11. Forlornehope

    I am a retired engineer; during most of my career I was responsible for teams of senior executives and professionals. For me, the most important question about anyone aspiring to do a job is not what they say they are going to do (the policies) but whether or not they have the ability to deliver. As far as Ed Miliband is concerned, I’m going to need an awful lot of convincing. If that counts as playing the man, it’s fine by me.

  12. Paul Adams

    I’ve some sympathy with that – I speak as a self-confessed work-shy person, but cut the man some slack, especially given the relentless right-wing attacks on Labour for being the party of “scroungers” they have no option but to keep banging on about “hardworking families”.

  13. CHRIS215

    I wonder if people are still suspicious of a man who shafted his older and more media savvy brother.

  14. PeteCW

    Yes – the Telegraph and the Mail are disgusting. Whenever I read The Times at my parents (I won’t give Murdoch my own money) it seems relatively dignified in comparison. The staggering dickheadedness of Liddle and Clarkson in the Sunday Times is on a par with the Mail and Telegraph though.

    The Guardian is the mainstream media – as is The Independent.

    I understand that there’s large element of letting off steam in the left wing media but I think it almost always undermines the correct and reasonable points being made, and in the case of Steve Bell’s facile scribbling, actually makes me ashamed to be someone who could be seen as a Guardian reader.

  15. kb32904

    “Conservative party ahead for the first time since Gordon Brown’s tenure as Labour leader.”

    Sorry but this is utter nonsense ! has the numbers for every poll since the election & they showed the Cons in front regularly until the 2012 budget.

  16. Matthew Blott

    Er yeah. I’ll have some of what you’re on please.

  17. Dave Roberts

    I too am concerned about how Miliband is perceived by the country and at the moment the perception isn’t good. In my old stamping ground of Tower Hamlets were I was born and brought up he is showing a complete lack of any kind of leadership.

    I would hope that by now everyone will be aware that that borough is run by a bunch of Islamists and crooked businessmen who are happily radicalising a generation of Bangladeshi youths while asset stripping the part of London that was the cradle of the Labour Party.

    The only part of the London inner doughnut that isn’t Labour is Tower Hamlets and the lesson for Miliband is that if is party can’t win there the week after next he can forget about Downing Street. He has made on very low level visit when he and other shadow ministers and high flyers should be there several times a week.

    Followers of the East End soap opera that is Tower Hamlets will know that one of the main factors in the victory of Lutfur Raman, besides vote rigging and buying, was the intervention of Ken Livingstone on Raman’s side against the official Labour candidate.

    For anyone else this would ave been expulsion, Livingstone got away with it because weak leadership and went on to do the same ting a couple of weeks ago. It now seems that someone has had a word in his ear as he is now backing the Labour candidate John Biggs at least in public.

    Miliband needs to make Tower Hamlets a priority because if Labour can’t take it the Tories will have been handed a winning hand and he will look like a loser, which he will be.

  18. wildejamey

    The comparison may be more with choosing Major over Kinnock. Major appealed to people in the centre and Kinnock was disliked by many and couldn’t overcome that. In an election where people were uncertain, that was an advantage for Major. I don’t think Cameron appeals in the same way. Miliband, much as he may dislike it, needs to get a makeover (the same as Thatcher did) to emphasize his strong points and minimize his weak points. But if the Tories are building up their personal attacks, we have hardly got to the stage where people will have to be concentrated on what 5 more years of Tory domination will mean. Unfortunately Labour is not even managing to do that. If they get their act together and people are still conned, they deserve all they will get – and it will be horrendous.

  19. wildejamey

    that really is a non-point. David Miliband had no divine right and MIliband did not shaft him.

  20. Roleo Umpha

    The labour party should be banned, broken up and made illegal, they are too incompetent to exist at all!!

  21. Octavius Droptrouser

    Labour are pure shit, totally useless and financially speaking are a bunch of twats!!

  22. Bryan Lagonda

    so true I agree 100 percent!!

  23. Digby hamstersox


  24. jox bawanak

    Octavius, someone talking sense at last, well done!!

  25. Gordon brownarse

    I wanted to apologise for being a total shitbag during all the years I was in power

  26. Gordon Brownarse

    O agree most strongly

  27. nickery max

    Piss off asshole

  28. davodlagonda

    Ed militwat is a sack of manure

  29. davodlagonda

    Labour are 8hite and always have been

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