A little while ago I wondered whether Ed’s recent flops were the last straw, and maybe it was time to think about replacing him. I was not the only one, of course, and who listens to me anyway, but others were saying what I was thinking.
HUGE error. I wish they hadn’t said anything.
Because today I have been assaulted by a welter of tweets recommending Luke Akehurst’s article: No Need For Jitters.
In fact, if anything was likely to make me think that Ed truly is an endangered species, then this blatant and frantic ‘Save the Miliband’ campaign has done nothing to reassure me.
Is it a good article? No it isn’t. It is a very sloppy article by someone who is probably very well connected amongst the nomenklatura, but has clearly lost touch with the rank-and-file.
Before I Start
Before I start on Mr Akehurst’s article, can I make one thing absolutely clear.
I do not want to get rid of Ed.
Whether Ed is, or is not, the leader of the Party is, at this moment, an absolute irrelevance to me.
What I want is a leader who is doing better than Ed is at the moment.
What I want is a leader who is speaking out with a clear message on the issues that matter to ordinary people at the moment.
But if Ed ups his game and becomes that leader, that’s fine by me.
I simply do not feel the need to protect, or sympathise with, or feel sorry for Ed Miliband. As it says in the Bible, it is not the duty of the sheep to take care of the shepherd.
I must confess that Mr Akehurst’s article reduced me almost to despair.
First, his opening words made me want to scream: ‘In the last couple of weeks we’ve had an outbreak of panic on Twitter and blogs caused by one good joke by David Cameron at PMQs’.
How far is it possible to miss the point?
First, it was not a joke; it was a particularly nasty jibe which sought to avoid the question by causing personal hurt. It was not just ‘cut-and-thrust’; it betrayed a viciousness which reveals the moral poverty of this bully of a Prime Minister. To ask about a possible rift between the Prime Minister and his Deputy was a valid matter of state; to answer it with so personal an attack was beneath contempt.
Secondly, what is all this about who told the better joke? People did not desert Ed Miliband because he lost a joke-telling contest; they questioned him because – faced by so puerile a jibe – he went to pieces. Where was the withering comeback? How did he miss the opportunity to crucify this charlatan of a Prime Minister whose arrogance is his weakness and Ed’s opportunity?
It was not the joke that lost Ed support, but Ed’s reaction to it.
Next, Mr Akehurst turns his attention to the opinion polls, which he dismisses as a ‘blip’ – a word which has featured frequently in official pronouncements from the Party.
(As an aside, I do get so heartily sick of these ‘official lines’, where our leadership seem not to have any character or personality of their own, but simply parrot from an obviously-pre-prepared script, following ‘the Party line’.)
Again, the heart sinks.
Yes – we all KNOW that it’s a blip! That’s not the point.
The point isn’t even Ed’s disastrous personal ratings. How dare you think I’m so shallow that the first time there’s a blip in the polls I’m shouting: ‘off with his head’!
The problem lies not with the blip, but what it indicates.
Cameron HAS benefitted from the EU bounce, and some of his recent statements (e.g. on problem families and Christianity) have played well to his white middle class constituency.
But the issue for Labour is whether the Party leadership has been playing their hand well enough too?
For the past four months I have been asking the Party leadership to say something, do something, about the devastation that this government is wreaking upon our benefit system, our human and working rights, our economy. I know I am not the only one. And the response has been – to be kind – lukewarm.
Just like a good teacher whose pupils suffer a sudden drop in their results would wonder whether he should improve his teaching approach, the question which the Labour Party ought to be asking itself as it suffers a (hopefully temporary) drop in the polls OUGHT to be: ‘to what extent is this our fault’ and: ‘how can we do better next time’ … NOT: ‘don’t panic it’s just a blip’.
‘Just a blip’ it may well indeed be, but to pat me patronisingly on the head, and reassure me that it is ‘just a blip’, is to betray criminal complacency and lack of accountability.
It’s not the polls I’m worried about – it’s the complacency and continued lack of movement in our leadership.
The reader of Mr Akehurst’s article is then treated to a long passage in which we are reminded of the HUGE problems facing the Party – the biggest defeat since the 1920s, the collapse of the Scottish Labour Party, the lack of ‘experienced, or widely publicly recognised, grey-haired senior figures still on the frontbench’(!), left-wing activists who are dragging the unions ‘in the opposite direction to the electorate’(!), ‘we have lost our reputation for economic competence’, the boundary ‘gerrymander’ etc. ad nauseam.
I fear that, for writing this rebuttal, I may be accused of ‘undermining the Party’. But after Mr Akehurst’s list of Labour’s failings and obstacles I wanted to slit my wrists. I have rarely seen such a negative and defeatist set of statements from someone who was supposed to be leading and inspiring me to greater efforts.
I tell you plainly, if I was wondering before reading this article whether Ed Miliband ought to go, I was convinced after reading it that Mr Akehurst needs to go.
And the reason for this extended list of woes? Well, of course, it is building us up to the statement that the Labour Party has achieved its ‘realistic maximum level’ – to set us up for the ‘we’re-doing-as-well-as-we-can’ plea.
Just take a moment to dwell on that phrase and its implications: ‘realistic maximum level’.
Nowadays, we don’t accept that kind of answer. The teacher whose pupils are failing their exams can no longer cite their socio-economic deprivation; if he does, he is put on capacity proceedings. The hospital with a higher infant mortality or which is careless of its older patients is not allowed excuses; it is pilloried in the press and reorganised.
And, quite frankly, if it means that we must suffer a single moment more of this wicked Tory government, I could not care less how hard Mr Akehurst and his colleagues regard their task. They are our leadership, and their task is to deliver success; as far as I am concerned, they are all on informal capacity measures.
Mr Akehurst’s article ends, predictably, with a restatement of the current leadership line, including ‘a narrative about the squeezed middle’ and ‘developing a social democracy for austere times’.
So … just more of the same then.
And that’s where Mr Akehurst finally broke my spirit.
Recently, I have been pleading (along with others far more effective and influential than I) for Labour to start to get urgent about the government’s benefit cuts.
The leadership has failed to convey a strong message on the economy, compromised on university fees, had to change tack on the NHS, and wavered about the pensions strike.
Now, when they should be SCREAMING about the injustices of the benefit cuts, the Party leadership are merely issuing: ‘Business as Usual – Keep Calm and Carry On’ messages from HQ.
The leadership are defending Ed, rather than those on benefits.
Which is why I say that I wish nobody had ever mentioned Ed’s currently pathetic leadership – the only effect has been to make the Party obsess about ‘the leadership’, when it should be attacking the latest government injustices.
Mr Akehurst finishes his article with his attempt at an inspiring call for us to unite behind Ed.
I would have been more inspired by a call for us to unite to decry this, or this, or this, or this!
Ed and his leadership may be endangered, but they are not the ones we should be uniting and fighting to protect.