Ed’s big year
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.
Ed Miliband, Labour