Back in September, I stuck my neck out (a little bit):
“…here’s a not especially daring prediction: come Halloween, the polls will show Labour with a sufficient lead to put Ed Miliband into Downing Street.”
And lo, it came to pass! While the silly season narrative was of Ed Miliband on the skids, the story of the autumn is of a modest, but solid, Labour lead – enough to put the member for Doncaster North into Downing Street.
There are those who have difficulty accepting this fact. Writing in the Telegraph, Ben Brogan appears to be one of them:
Nothing… is quite so head-scratching at the moment as the success of the Labour Party. The Tories are certainly puzzled – and terrified – by it. So are plenty of Labour people, many of whom can’t quite believe that things are going so well for Her Majesty’s Opposition. On current trends, it is entirely rational to expect that it will be returned with an overall majority in 2015, or will at least finish as the largest party, and that Ed Miliband will become prime minister.
It all seems so unfair:
“How can it be that a party widely blamed for the nation’s ills – let alone one led by a politician who commands so little public respect – is in a position to measure the curtains for Downing Street? Soundly rejected, only to be welcomed back a term later: if it came to pass, a Labour win would deserve an award for most unlikely political comeback.”
In terms of the popular vote, Labour went down to a worse defeat in 2010 than the Conservatives did in 1997. But while it took the Tories ten years and four leaders to recover, Labour have done it in half a parliament and with the wrong brother.
Brogan suggests the following explanation:
“Mr Miliband’s emphasis on living standards, and in particular his offer of a temporary freeze on energy prices, are being credited for Labour’s autumn recovery. As an Opposition leader, he is good at finding a totemic issue and exploiting it to the full. The ploy has been so successful that – despite promising publicly that they would not match gimmicks with gimmicks – the Tories have been scrambling to put together their own wheezes in reply.
“It’s here that Labour’s success is particularly galling to the Conservatives. Events on the wider economic front have proved Ed Balls wrong, and George Osborne right.”
It’s a perfectly sound analysis, but for most voters the “wider economic front” is the cost of living issue. With wages stagnant and prices rising, the recovery of GDP growth is of scant comfort. Indeed, if Labour’s success is “galling” to the Conservative leadership, then the latter need to ask themselves how the British public will feel about the economic recovery if they have no share in it.
Furthermore, the humbling of Ed Balls only makes the Labour leader look better by comparison. While the Shadow Chancellor was staking his reputation on a half-baked macroeconomic theory, Ed Miliband was talking about the ‘squeezed middle’ – a phrase that was mocked at the time, but which now looks farsighted.
Things might again look different if, in two years time, he finds himself having to deliver on his pledge to freeze energy prices. But, by then, it will be too late.