Patrick Wintour’s lengthy insight piece for The Guardian presents a must-read insight into the unravelling of the Miliband campaign, from its early days right through to the morning after the election. The piece itself is stuffed full of juicy quotes and revealing anecdotes. For the time-poor, here are a few crucial revelations:
- The bad blood won’t be going away any time soon. As they say, success has a thousand fathers but failure is an orphan – the article is jam-packed with people variously blaming other members of Team Miliband for disasters big and small. There are very few of his advisors – elected or otherwise – who come out of it unscathed, and I doubt they’ll be allowed by other parts of the Labour Party to forget it over the next few years.
- The claim that they always knew they were behind in the polls is nonsense. It’s evident from Wintour’s account that not only did Labour’s private polling not differ much from the published polls, but they were deeply shocked when the exit poll came in. Their decisions during the campaign (putting resources into seats they hoped to gain in Yorkshire, rather than focusing on defending places like Morley and Outwood, for example) already suggested the idea of insider knowledge was a myth – this confirms it.
- As we predicted, their problems were encapsulated by the battle between miserablism and reality. At the start of 2014, one of ConHome’s five trends to watch for the year was as follows:
“Having predicted the worst time and again, and repeatedly been proved wrong, the Opposition are struggling to swallow the growing economic good news. Their natural instincts – and their main financiers – urge them to talk about how bad everything is, but they are at risk of being seen to talk Britain down, to enjoy bad news and to have learned no lessons from their failures in government. While some Shadow Ministers want to adapt to new times, others want to please their donors, cling to a broken ideology and justify their past mistakes (cough, Ed Balls) – it remains to be seen who will win out.”
By the summer of that year, Labour HQ had woken up to the problem, too. As one aide told Wintour:
“We thought part of our problem was that we were very downbeat and depressing – always telling people what’s wrong with the country.”
- Ed Balls was a major issue. Division and resulting indecision run right through the account of the Miliband project. Where some called for more optimism, others insisted that miserablism – particularly on the economy – should be the line. When some wanted to try to distance themselves completely from the past, others wanted to defend Labour’s record. We pointed out the strategic paralysis that was evident in the Labour campaign in 2013, and it only got worse. On most issues, Wintour reports, decisions were fudged or deferred – and in large part that was due to Miliband’s lack of authority, particularly over Ed Balls. The former Shadow Chancellor isn’t known for his willingness to roll over and recognise mistakes, and even when his leader’s instincts were in the right direction it seems Balls regularly just refused to allow a change. As Greg Beales, Labour’s director of strategy, warned Miliband when he was mulling who to pick as Shadow Chancellor, “if you appoint Balls it is going to be the last decision you are ever going to make”. How right he was.
- How the Edstone happened. I’m not alone in having wondered how on earth a manifesto monolith was ever approved as a campaign idea – how on earth didn’t it get laughed out of the first meeting where it was discussed, never mind actually get commissioned and unveiled? Wintour brings us an answer of sorts:’ “The only reason it got through 10 planning meetings was because we were all distracted, looking for a way to punch through on the SNP,” one adviser said.’ I’m not entirely convinced that they just nodded through an 8 foot 6 piece of limestone, but that it is even a vaguely plausible excuse also gives an insight into quite how badly the Opposition were struggling to identify with key voters. Not only were they powerless in the face of the SNP onslaught, but the piece also reveals that they totally failed to see the resonance of the SNP issue in England coming, too.