By Tim Montgomerie
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One of the fears of Tory activists in target seats is that if the national party couldn't win a majority when Gordon Brown was Labour leader then it has its work cut out to win a majority at the next election. But what if Ed Miliband is an even worse Labour leader? A YouGov poll for this morning's Times (£) does not provide a conclusive answer to that question (a few of its findings point in opposite directions) but it does suggest that there are important grounds for thinking the current Labour leader is weaker than his predecessor on some important measures. The Times leader writers summarise some key YouGov findings:
"Asked to compare Mr Miliband with his predecessor, Gordon Brown, the public found Mr Miliband less in touch, less caring about ordinary people, less trustworthy, considerably less decisive, weaker, less competent and much less clear about what he stands for. This was against Mr Brown, an unpopular, unelected prime minister who attracted a mere 29 per cent of the vote in the 2010 general election. There is much in this polling that ought to concern Mr Miliband but perhaps most worrying of all is the verdict on the core leadership virtues of decisiveness and strength. Only 19 per cent think that he is decisive and 57 per cent say that he is liable to dither. Fewer than a fifth describe him as a strong leader and more than half say that he is weak."
Writing a commentary for The Times (£), YouGov's Peter Kellner offers three crumbs of comfort to the Labour leader. Crumb one is that the Labour leader scores strongly when it comes to personal honesty and more people seem to like Ed Miliband. Crumb two is that about one-third of voters have no opinion of Mr Miliband. The Labour leader must hope that these undecideds won't join the majority of voters who have consistently told pollsters that they don't see him as prime ministerial. Crumb three isn't a crumb – it's more of a loaf. Kellner notes that in 1979 Margaret Thatcher trailed Jim Callaghan by 20% when it came to preferred PM ratings. That deficit didn't matter when it came to that year's general election. The Labour government was capsized by the Winter of Discontent and an overwhelming sense of economic malaise. The danger that today's Tories will screw things up remains Labour's best hope.
It is usually true that oppositions don't win elections, governments lose them – but for that political proposition to hold true oppositions have to meet a minimum level of competence and maturity. It is far from clear that Labour under Ed Miliband has met that test in enough voters' minds.