Ed’s big year

Ed Miliband

2014 will decide the outcome of the next general election

Next year is the most important for Ed Miliband since he decided, as a teenager, to enter politics. As Neil Kinnock remarked, elections are won in years, not weeks. By the end of 2014, with less than six months until the election, most voters will have made up their minds. What happens over the next 12 months will tip them one way or the other.

Miliband’s year is mostly mapped out: the local and mayoral elections in May; the Scottish referendum in September; wreath-laying on Remembrance Sunday; the odd by-election prompted by death or scandal. It would be easy to sit back and handle each event as it comes, settle for a 10-point lead, and count down the days.

As a student of politics, the Labour leader knows full well that oppositions’ poll leads melt away as elections near. He understands that the old adage that oppositions do not win elections, governments lose them, is diametrically wrong. So Miliband’s challenge is to significantly extend, not consolidate, Labour’s lead.

Of course, he must make a decent fist of being the leader of the opposition. One of his most important roles will be during the commemorations to mark the 100th anniversary of the first world war. This will dominate 2014, and the Labour party must play a full part. He has already made a smart move by putting Dan Jarvis, a former army officer who now sits on Labour’s frontbench, in charge of the party’s contributions to the national events. The 70th anniversary of the D-day landings in June will also give Miliband an opportunity to remind people about his own father’s military service in a Royal Navy destroyer off the coast of Normandy.

The Labour leader’s video at last month’s Spectator awards, showing him funny and relaxed in his own skin, struck the right tone. Kinnock, as leader of the opposition, and Gordon Brown, as prime minister, failed to look and sound comfortable in their roles. Both performed horrible contortions to mask their own personalities and backgrounds. It convinced no one. Ed must be Ed. He is a politician, an intellectual, a radical and a dad. So let us not pretend he is ‘ordinary’; he is not. He is extraordinary – that is why he should be prime minister.

The first real test is the special conference in the spring. He has picked a fight, and he cannot run away from it. The outcome must be a recast relationship with the affiliated unions which the public can see is fair and transparent. A fudge will not only be a wasted opportunity, it will dismay the voters.

In the London borough elections in May, Labour should do well. We will take scores of council seats in Tory parliamentary marginals in Barnet, Merton and Enfield and take control of councils such as Harrow. Just as the Tories used victory in Wandsworth and Westminster in 1990 as a metaphor for Labour’s inability to break through, so Miliband must paint our victories in London as the death knell of the coalition.

Across England, new Labour councillors will be elected in places where we must beat Tory MPs. The media may focus on London, but Miliband needs to tell a different story: about a Labour party beating the Tories in Milton Keynes, Peterborough, Swindon, Reading, Hastings, Cambridge, Carlisle, Harlow, Lincoln, Norwich, Stevenage and Worcester. Labour might even see a clean sweep in the five mayoral elections, beating the Liberal Democrats in Watford, and waving goodbye to Lutfur Rahman in Tower Hamlets.

The European elections will be more problematic. But the expected United Kingdom Independence party surge is far more toxic for David Cameron than for Miliband. It is the Tories who will implode if Ukip wins on vote share and increases its number of seats. Miliband merely needs to steady nerves, and co-opt Ukip’s success into his narrative about broken politics and the need for radical change.

Fair or not, Labour’s frontbenchers came in for criticism for failing to campaign through the summer holidays. In 2014, Miliband has to issue a simple order: all leave is cancelled. Every MP and candidate should be mobilised in a carefully choreographed summer campaign, across the beaches of Blackpool, Brighton and the Costa Blanca, to prove we are hungry for power.

On 18 September the people of Scotland go to the polls to vote on whether to remain part of the United Kingdom or embark on a bold constitutional experiment. Miliband must throw himself into the pro-union campaign, and prove himself on the right side of the winning argument.

As Labour contemplates the last conference season before the election, Labour’s leader must replicate the game-changing announcement of his energy price freeze. In Manchester in 2014, Miliband must shower the conference with policy announcements which rattle the Tories, excite the media and break through to the public. It must be a conference which looks and feels like a government-in-waiting. These must show economic toughness, willingness to reform public services and a healthy dose of radicalism.

By Christmas, we will know whether Miliband deserves an extra slice of turkey, or whether the new year heralds only disappointment and defeat.

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Photo: plashing vole

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  • Anonymous

    Ed needs to go for the fat cats in a big way, to set the pace as he did with energy and the cost of living. If he doesn’t get in soon, I fear that the Tories will have their hands forced by the ongoing scandals and grab the initiative here.

    I’m sure I’m not saying anything new, but someone has to acknowledge (and take advantage of) the massive popular anger out there with the behaviour of the banks, finance houses and directors of large companies. The big political risk is that if the Tories do grab this, it will be made to play to their tune of “clearing up Labour’s mess” whereas if we seize the initiative, we can put our hands up to lax regulation and promise to sort this out with a lot more credibility than the Tories. They’ve had 3+ years and done nothing – and they’re funded by the City.

    I suggest two or three specific headline policies: limitation on ratio of top to bottom pay in plcs of 20:1 by 2020; a new criminal offence for gross breach of trust; complete separation of retail and investment banking with severe penalties for misuse of depositors’ funds.

  • Doug Smith

    “One of his most important roles will be during the commemorations to mark the 100th anniversary of the first world war.”

    Quite right. If he wants to be elected Ed must do everything he can to whitewash Blair’s disastrous Iraq legacy.

  • roy steele

    Lest we forget, womenfolk in UK,over the age of 30, were only allowed the vote in 1918. Whether women got the vote in 1918 was as a direct result of the millions of lives [unnecessarily] obliterated and lost in the First ‘Great War’ trenches is moot; but a bit too coincdental, and I haven’t read WSCs book yet. Whatever the raison d’etre for that War, previous wars or subsequent ones and [God help us] those yet to come, the coincidental outcome for women receiving the universal suffrage vote was one positive ‘result’ of WW1. But at a very great price paid by our Commonwealth communities. Wars are inevitable? [but never justified]. As long as extremist half-humans are allowed out there able and willing to bomb and maim innocents to smithereens there shall be a need for the Army and security personnel; and the need for finances to support the purchase of whatever materiel&digitally-controlled CCTV cams and recording equipments they need. A few hundred thousand [?] 18 year old voters will turn up to cast their votes for the 1st time on Thursday 7 May 2015? Many wont vote at all, being too disinterested and thinking ‘politicians are all the same’ and they don’t give a damn. [There's the numbers you need, Ed, without doing too much work, play down the war card, most women and teenagers don't fancy a bit of boot-kamp - some do, but not many].

    A lot of the [above] two categories are liable to vote for the “greens” and a few will be co-opted/coerced in to voting for a fascist-oriented extremist viewpoint party, mainly because they don’t want war any more or want some more war depending on which particular brand of cornflakes they eat on that Thursday morning in 2015.
    I can see why our Queen Elizabeth II opts out of using her constitutional vote. Other women should think to use it out of respect for men&women who have made ultimate sacrifices for the upkeep of the systems [democratic freedoms] which allowed their votes in the first part of the last century and as a thanks to the likes of the Mrs Pankhursts and brave lads&lasses.

    [18 year old'sl, let them vote on-line is the only way to get the little darlings out of bed to vote].

  • Richard MacKinnon

    Labour cannot move on, and nor will it be allowed to, before it faces up to the fact that Tony Blair is a war criminal. You can pour as much whitewash onto that fact as you want Doug Smith but it will not go away..
    Shock and awe, 600,000 Iraqi men women and children dead. What about justice as opposed to whitewash?