Ed’s matured, but still has lots of ground to cover

(c) Department for Energy and Climate Change

Tom Bailey

Ed Miliband’s response to the developments of the News International saga over the last several weeks has rightly drawn praise. He has, in the words of Andrew Rawnsley, ‘thrown off his L-plates’. Certainly there is a broad consensus that he had a far better crisis than David Cameron who has been attacked for both his links to News Corp and his handling of the crisis.

Despite the inevitable complaints from certain sections of the right about the liberal bias from the media, or ‘hysteria’ as Rupert Murdoch termed it, the News of the World (NoW) has appalled commentators of all political perspectives and is of News Corp’s making.

While Cameron complained that Miliband’s latest criticisms were ‘feeble conspiracy theories’, it is noteworthy that The Daily Telegraphis asking the same questions and being just as critical of Cameron as the BBC or the Guardianhave been over recent weeks.

Miliband has provided leadership on the issue. He the need for a judge led enquiry before David Cameron, called for the resignation of Rebekah Brooks and argued that the BSkyB takeover could no longer be treated as separate in light of the seriousness and scale of the revelations.

Miliband’s performance has drawn recognition from both critics and natural supporters. As recent as a month ago, Miliband was coming under considerable criticism. The book ‘Ed’had a damaging impact on his public image and commentary on his leadership was taking an extremely bleak view of his prospects. However, in recent weeks he has represented a credible potential leader of the country as never before.

This strong performance has drawn recognition from amongst the public. Writing on Left Foot Forward, Neil Foster noted that polling indicated 80% favoured a review of Murdoch’s media empire.

He continued to note that ‘David Cameron has fared worst of the three main political leaders at Westminster in how they have responded to the scandal. One poll suggested that ‘56% believe he has: “Handled the controversies over hacking badly.”’

Ed Miliband has certainly approached the issue with a clearer stance, regardless of his own inevitable ties to the Murdoch press, both through Tom Baldwin, his spinner, and his courtship of News Corp executives. , well though Ed Miliband has handled the issue, there has been far too much exaggeration amongst commentators.

While Miliband’s reputation has improved amongst the public, it still lags behind their opinion of Cameron. Polly Toynbee argued that ‘from zero to hero in a fortnight, Ed Miliband has blindsided David Cameron so far’. Although this might be an accurate description of the change in tone amongst commentators on this issue, the polls of voters do not reflect such a generous estimation.

Improved though they are, Miliband’s poll ratings started from a very low initial point. An Independent/ComRes poll found that 27%, an improvement of 9 percent from the previous poll, agreed with the proposition that Ed Miliband is becoming a good leader of the Labour party. However, this is still outweighed by 41% who disagree. This is still worse than Ian Duncan Smith whose approval rating was ‘minus 9 per cent’ at this stage of his leadership.

Tim Montgomerie of ConservativeHome cited another poll that demonstrates how Miliband continues to trail Cameron in leader approval ratings. One poll by Populus found that 60% of those asked replied that their opinion of Ed Miliband remained unchanged over the last few weeks.

poll in March even found that Miliband was less popular than Nick Clegg. That’s actually a feat given that Miliband himself has mocked Clegg for ‘being dumped on every day of the week’. Leadership is of vital importance to voters and Cameron still appears to have a better standing amongst the public.

Certain claims of the left-wing blogosphere are simple overstatements. It remains too early to judge whether this is, as Anthony Painter wrote, the emergence of Ed Miliband Mark II. While I have no intention of suggesting that recent developments in Miliband’s leadership have been anything but positive, there remains considerable work ahead for Labour if this performance can be translated into momentum towards presenting a credible alternative for the electorate.

For instance, Miliband’s decisiveness and boldness on the issue of BSkyB and News Corp’s conduct does not alter the fact that Labour have considerable dilemmas over policy on the issues of immigration and the economy. The controversial statement of Lord Glasman on immigration will worry many within the party.

The ‘son of Brown’ label given to both Ed Balls and Ed Miliband tie in the present Labour leadership with the economic legacy of New Labour and the contemporary challenges facing the UK economy. With respect to recent developments, Mark Ferguson of Labour List wrote that Ed Miliband has had a ‘good war’.

This assessment is premature; it would be better made in the aftermath of a successful campaign to win the next general election. Miliband has won his first major battle with Cameron but the war will continue until May 2015.


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