So nobody likes anybody. Across the entire range of parties and political leaders, there is scarcely a scintilla of approval from the electorate. The liveliest competition of the moment seems to be the race to the bottom: who can actually manage to out-do all of his rivals to achieve the nadir of voter approbation? Will Dave on his poll approval rating of minus 30-something eventually overtake Ed, currently on minus 40-something, to arrive at the ultimate wooden spoon destination of having no supporters at all?
Even given the circumstances – economic crisis requiring unpleasant decisions, coalition government paralysed by stalemate, etc – this degree of unpopularity is startling. I can’t recall a time when the entire political class was in such uniform, unrelieved disrepute that even a possible change of government seemed to offer, so far as most people appear to believe, no expectation of relief.
This is odd, when you think of it. Never before in political history has more attention apparently been paid to the systematic study of public preferences. The observation, analysis and deconstruction of voters’ opinions are now pseudo-science with a body of theoretical texts and methodology. The operation of focus groups and the design of opinion polling, as w
Yesterday a small but significant thing happened. Ed Miliband attacked the Coalition from the Right.
To be fair he attacked them from the Left, and from the centre, and came diving out of the noonday sun as well: “Ed Miliband targets health reforms in local election campaign” – The Guardian; “Ed Miliband targets David Cameron in local election’s campaign launch” – Metro; “Ed Miliband: The Government has betrayed middle Britain” – Telegraph.
But for a moment let’s set aside the Labour leader’s continuing inability to deploy a single, sustained narrative. Miliband has finally broken his self-denying ordinance, and actually started piling in from the Right. The first assault appeared in the Daily Mirror: “Anti-social yobs should be frogmarched back to their victims to make amends, says Ed Miliband.” According to RoboEd, police should “be able to press thugs to clean up their mess by scrubbing off graffiti or rebuilding community projects.” And all without the usual mindless bureaucracy associated with things like fair representation or due legal process.
Be careful what you wish for. Had the Delphic Oracle told Ed Miliband two weeks ago that Labour would soon be 10 points ahead of the Tories and as few as four points adrift on economic credibility, the Labour leader would not have believed his ears. That breakthrough moment, so long awaited, has vanished faster than Ed Balls could swallow a Greggs sausage roll.
When Mr Miliband launched Labour’s local election campaign yesterday, he should have looked dominant. The Tories are discredited by a party funding scandal, coupled with taxes on old age and pasties. Ministerial guidance on petrol-buying has been so haughty and ill-conceived that motorists might no longer be surprised if told to fill up their cars with five-star cognac.
Yet Mr Miliband, who should be capitalising on this disarray, is hamstrung by problems that did not begin or end in Bradford West. Liam Byrne wants to stand down from the shadow cabinet to run for mayor of Birmingham, leaving a half-hatched policy review behind him. Ken Livingstone is scarcely a shoo-in for the London mayoralty, which will inevitably be branded as the next big test for Mr Miliband.
It was David Cameron’s worst week until it became Ed Miliband’s worst week – and then, within hours, it was Cameron’s worst week again. If you blinked at the wrong moment, you missed a whole epoch in national politics. George Galloway was still strutting around the broadcasting studios exulting in the damage he had done to the Labour leadership (which was being described in excitable Labour circles as terminal) when Unite announced that there would be no – repeat, no – haulage strike over Easter, thus rendering the government-induced panic over petrol even more ridiculous. Then this comedy of ineptitude began to look more like tragedy when a woman was critically burned as a more-or-less direct consequence of ministerial warnings about an imminent fuel shortage: warnings that were transparently designed not to avert a crisis but to create the impression of one in order to discredit Labour and its trade union allies.
So much for the Tory party being in the hands of PR professionals. These were the guys who, whatever they may have lacked in vision or convictions, were supposed to be the experts at – how did it go? – managing the message, controlling the narrative, transforming the image.
The questions race through the mind like Grand Prix cars pelting round a chicane, but to each the only response is a squeal of mesmerised incredulity. After a week of undiluted governmental fiasco, who could have imagined that Ed Miliband would end it looking the most bamboozled, anaemic – yup, you guessed it – pasty? Who even knew a by-election was being held in Bradford before hearing the result… and who that did had an inkling of the shock to come? What does it say about the state of mainstream politics, and what does it presage for the future? And whatever next in the outlandish public life of George Galloway MP?
For every Allahu Akbar echoing through the mosques of West Yorkshire, 10,000 “gawd help us-es” will be resounding elsewhere at his latest renaissance, though none as anguished as Little Ed’s. We all know that by-elections are momentary snapshots with little long-term predictive relevance. Gorgeous George first reached Parliament in 1987 by taking Glasgow Hillhead from Roy Jenkins, who had originally won it for the SDP in a famous by-election upset.
No matter how bad things get for David Cameron, there is a sense that they will never be truly calamitous until the Labour Party can get its act together.
The government has been suffering its worst week since the General Election, but just in time here comes Labour to the rescue. The sensational victory of George Galloway in Bradford West is a disaster for Ed Miliband. Galloway didn’t just sneak a win; he thumped Labour, got 56 per cent of the vote and secured a 10,100 majority.
Lucky old Cameron. Labour’s position had seemingly been improving on the back of the Government’s Keystone Kops creation of a fuel crisis, the donor scandal and a botched budget. The Opposition had opened up a 10pt lead. In such circumstances, Bradford West is the kind of seat Labour should be winning comfortably.
Labour spokesman are blaming Big Brother, ascribing Galloway’s victory to his celebrity, which results in part from him pretending to be a cat (wearing a bright red cat-suit) with Rula Lenska in an infamous scene from the dire reality TV show. Another Labour MP said it was all about Iraq. Perhaps that is a lingering factor, but the invasion of Iraq was nine years ago.
Galloway surely has a point when he says that%
This morning the Labour Party is no longer fighting to win the next election. It’s fighting to stay in existence.
George Galloway’s win is the most catastrophic result for the Labour party since Roy Jenkins and the SDP’s challenge in Warrington in 1981. Though in Warrington Jenkins lost narrowly. Gorgeous George is again off to Westminster.
There are mitigating factors, of course: turnout, demography, local issues. But they are sidebars. In a safe Labour seat, in the middle of the worst period of austerity for a generation, following a catastrophic Budget, at the end of a week in which the Government appeared to be falling apart at the seams, Labour has lost. And, most devastatingly of all, lost to a threat from the Left.
There are some people in the Labour movement who have been warning for some time of the looming threat on Labour’s Left flank. They – sorry, we – have also argued repeatedly that Labour’s small opinion-poll leads and previous by–election victories masked a growing political and structural vacuum at the centre of the party, one that the movements more militant elements were preparing to fill.