By Tim Montgomerie
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Ed Miliband is beginning to sing better tunes. Today, welcomed by Fraser Nelson, he will argue that people in work should have priority over those on welfare in the allocation of social housing. At the weekend he promised to take action against the big energy companies to cut fuel bills (voters' number one issue). He conceded that tuition fees need to be higher but not as high as the Coalition proposes. Yesterday Ed Balls reeled off a list of belated apologies for some of Labour's past sins. He also promised to use privatisation of the nationalised banks to reduce the deficit. I'm not suggesting that these policy positions are thought through. I'm not suggesting that Labour's sums add up. They don't. But after a year in which Ed Miliband had no half-interesting policy positions and was making no attempt to address his party's wasteful image, Labour is finally making a start.
The big problem remains, however, Ed Miliband himself. An overnight opinion poll from ComRes confirmed the problem. Only 24% of voters see Ed Miliband as a credible PM-in-waiting (compared to 36% who are ready to vote Labour). 57% don't think Ed Miliband is a credible candidate to replace David Cameron. Ed Miliband has now had a year to make a good impression and he's clearly failed. First impressions matter and tend to last. It's going to take something seismic to shift voters' perceptions of the Labour leader.
On Right Minds yesterday the former head of media at Tory HQ, Nick Wood, argued that Ed Miliband would be out of a job by now if he'd been Tory leader:
"A recent ICM poll for The Guardian found that even among Labour voters only 49 per cent believed the party had picked the right man for the job. Figures like these – though not nearly so bad – cost Iain Duncan Smith the leadership of the Conservative Party in 2003. His net satisfaction rating hit minus 21 not long before he was ousted by panicky Tory MPs. But that's nothing compared with the minus 30 or so clocked up by Miliband in recent months."
Downing Street shares this view of Miliband. They think the Labour leader is unelectable.
Yesterday, for The Guardian, I argued that this wasn't a good state of affairs for any of us. A good leader of the opposition should keep Cameron on his toes and Miliband is not currently a good leader of the opposition. I offered five pieces of advice to Ed Miliband. The first was by far the most important thing for him to do:
"The Labour leader should begin by addressing the fundamental reason why Labour was ejected from power. Labour became seen as the party of debt, waste and taxes. From the Millenium Dome to the NHS supercomputer, Labour showed that it was careless with people's money. The main reason why right-of-centre governments are currently flourishing across the world is that voters cannot afford profligate governments when their own budgets are stretched. Miliband has wasted his first year. He's confirmed fears about Labour by appointing Ed Balls, one of the architects of the Gordon Brown years, as his Treasury spokesman. Miliband has opposed every coalition measure to reduce the deficit. His "squeezed middle" soundbite is a potent one but he shows zero sign of wanting to squeeze the fat out of government."
My other four suggestions: drive wedges on issues like the Euro between Cameron and the country; lovebomb the Liberal Democrats; build new think tank capacity; and laugh at himself to address the 'Odd Ed' thing. Read the full piece.