By Joseph Willits
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In today's Guardian, Jackie Ashley has come to the defence of Ed Miliband, describing him as the latest victim of the "village of random brutality" that is British politics, rather than being fundamentally written off as Labour Party leader. However, Ashley acknowledges that "it would be ludicrous to claim that everything has gone well", having failed to catch the country's imagination, and being treated with "casual insolence" by Cameron. "Neither he nor Labour is doing well enough, for all the difficulties of mid-term recessional politics", she writes. If any political party has the "right analysis, and convincing solutions, then questions of personality matter much less, and the argument, online or offline, will swing your way."
In the Sunday Telegraph, Iain Martin asked five questions about Ed Miliband's future. Martin, unlike Ashley, placed more emphasis on personality being linked to leadership qualities. Strong or charismatic are inevitably linked to the ability to deal with a crisis. He wrote:
"Part of the problem for Mr Miliband is that at a time of economic emergency, voters put an even higher premium on the importance of strong leadership qualities. Here Mr Miliband is viewed as seriously deficient."
Unlike other commentators, Ashley takes a slightly more optimistic slant on recent poliing, putting the Tories ahead of Labour by 6 points. The recent by-election in Feltham and Heston, "real votes" giving Labour an 8.6% swing, would she said, "deliver Labour a general election victory if replicated at the next election". In terms of popularity, Cameron and Miliband were "even stevens", with Miliband leading Cameron for the first half of 2011, and Cameron leading Miliband for the latter.
Describing them as "Labour's defeated Blairites", Ashley cites the criticism of commentators such as Dan Hodges and John Rentoul, adding to Miliband's woes.
Of the major political changes occurring in 2011, the Labour Party "entering, rather early on, another period of introspection and plotting about its leader", is, says John Rentoul in the Independent on Sunday, "the least important", but a reality. Rentoul says that a change of leader is likely, if the opinion polls worsen for Miliband. Like Ashley, Rentoul agrees that Labour won the Feltham and Heston by-election "well", but that "a nine-point swing was not the sort of mid-term result that suggests a government in serious trouble". Without having an obvious challenger to Miliband's leadership in mind, Rentoul says "the lesson of recent history is that leaders can emerge as if from nowhere." He continues:
"As soon as someone says it is "too early" for one of the 2010 intake to be leader, we will find that they already are".
The most fervent critic of Ed Miliband is Dan Hodges. He has responded to Ashley's article in a blogpost today, urging Miliband to listen to her advice, then do the exact opposite. In an article in Friday's Telegraph however, he was more damning of the Labour party itself, and its deliberations over leadership change. Hodges dismisses suggestions that the Labour party doesn't plot to oust its leaders, "Labour MPs are always scheming and manoeuvring. They’re just not very good at it", he writes. "Labour is only too happy to wield the knife. The trouble is that the party invariably ends up stabbing itself in the thigh."
Like John Rentoul, Hodges argues that it isn't simply Labour incompetence preventing a leadership coup, but the absence of a clear candidate" which "would leave the party looking like a rabble". The greatest problem for the Labour party "is a growing consensus that a change of leader would mean little were it not accompanied by a change of political direction" writes Hodges. According to Hodges, the Labour party is particular about the terms under which it would win an election, and until this issue is resolved, Miliband is safe as leader:
"Ed Miliband was not, in fact, elected by the Labour Party to get rid of David Cameron. He was elected to rid the party of the stain of Tony Blair."
In yesterday's Telegraph, Janet Daley concluded that the low turnout in the Feltham and Heston by-election was significant in that "Labour activists managed to propel every party supporter they could lay hands on to the polling stations". Daley argues that it is the same Labour activists who are both the "salvation" and the "curse" to the party:
"The party once again belongs to its hard-core adherents. It has apparently given up on – or lost any understanding of – the wider electorate that once gave it a succession of general election victories. So Labour’s activists are, at the same time, its salvation and its curse, because they are both indefatigable and impervious to argument. They do not believe that there are actually two plausible and conscientious sides to the debates about, say, social equality or poverty. There is just the force for good (the Left) and the force for evil (the Right)."
Under the leadership of Ed Miliband, after the "repudiation of Blairism", Labour has been "forced back into the ideological bloody-mindedness of the 1980s: if people do not agree with us, we must try harder to make them see the light", writes Daley. Labour has, Daley continues, trapped itself "in the delusion of its own unique righteousness" which it its "most self-defeating mistake: the belief that the British public can be bullied into accepting that its own moral instincts are unsound."