Labour must address its weaknesses

It isn't enough to be half competent, polling well on some areas but poorly on others.

It isn’t enough to be half competent, polling well on some areas but poorly on others

The weekend polling will not have made great reading for Ed Miliband. A YouGov poll in today’s Sunday Times (£) gave the Tories a two-point lead over Labour, 36 per cent to 34 per cent. This came after a poll on Friday which gave the Tories a single point lead.

Meanwhile criticism of Miliband’s strategy from key Labour Party figures has been growing louder. Former deputy PM John Prescott accused Labour in the Sunday Mirror of pursuing a ‘core vote strategy’, while Labour MP John Mann has branded the latest polling a ‘wake-up call’ to those ‘at the top of the party’.

Former adviser to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown Patrick Diamond has also said that Labour ‘appears politically on the back foot’.

Along with the two polls, concerns about the party’s direction of travel appear to have been heightened by the recent party conference, where Miliband was criticised for ‘forgetting’ the two sections of his speech which dealt with immigration and the deficit.

It would be a mistake, however, to view this as simply a case of a leader of the opposition fluffing his lines. Miliband’s forgetfulness is indicative of a bigger problem Labour has had recently of focusing on areas where the party is already strong – to the detriment of areas where the Tories have a lead.

In contrast, David Cameron has done the opposite, focusing on the NHS in order to make inroads into Labour’s lead on the issue but, more importantly, balancing the Conservatives’ ‘tough’ message with compassion.

Now Labour needs to focus on the areas where it is viewed with suspicion. Yes it’s important to draw attention to the coalition’s failure to protect the NHS, but Labour must also fight on ground where it is seen in a more negative light. According to YouGov, over half (55 per cent) think the economy is the most important issue facing the country, while 55 per cent think immigration and asylum are. In contrast, health is chosen by 39 per cent.

That means talk about health – certainly – but don’t necessarily view it as the issue that will decide the election. September polling by Ipsos MORI found that the most important issue for voters at the next election is the economy – and the Tories have a lead here of 25 points. This is not good enough.

The Conservatives appear finally to have grasped that the best-rounded party will win next year’s election. For the Tories this means keeping a tough message on the deficit, welfare and immigration but balancing it with messaging on safeguarding the NHS and rewarding hard work.

Labour ought to take note and recognise that, if it wants to win power next year, it will have to convince voters it can be trusted in those areas where it is currently weak. That means talking, where appropriate, about the deficit, about immigration and about business.

It isn’t enough to be half competent, polling well on some areas but poorly on others. Voters want to see a government-in-waiting. They want to know that Labour has all its bases covered, not only those it feels comfortable attacking the coalition on.

The idea of ‘One Nation’ Labour, which Miliband appears to have dropped of late, is premised on the notion that Labour can govern for everyone; or more specifically, that everyone is a potential Labour voter. Such a strategy has far more potential than anything which focuses solely on Labour’s ‘core vote’, but pursuing it means meeting voters head on in every area which might shape their voting decision next May.

Labour still hasn’t done enough to address its weaknesses. It has talked an awful lot to the party, but not enough to the country.

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