Martin Bright

Face it: Ed Miliband could be the next prime minister

Face it: Ed Miliband could be the next prime minister
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It’s fun isn’t it, all this speculation about a leadership challenge to David Cameron? It was obvious really in the run-up to party conference season. We all needed a new narrative. Last year we enjoyed giving Ed Miliband a good kicking and his 'anti-business' conference speech played into the hands of his critics. The infantile booing of Tony Blair’s name by delegates made it look like the party was determined to make itself unelectable.

But the reality now - and there are plenty on the left as well as the right who still find this a scary prospect - is that Ed Miliband is the man most likely to be the next prime minister. Looking back, the speech looks rather prophetic with its appeal for a shift in the country’s cultural values in favour of 'grafters'. Ed may have turned a little red for some people’s tastes but he captured something of the public mood.

Jenni Russell, a friend of the Labour leader but one of his fiercest critics at the time of last year’s speech, is right to warn of the dangers of complacency in the Labour ranks:

'This should, then, be a good moment for Labour. It is in fact a dangerous one. The temptation is for Labour’s leaders to think that they can relax a little, in the belief that they have a comfortable poll lead, a convincing argument on the economy, and time to refine their remaining ideas on how to run the country more effectively. None of these things are true.

Labour has won nothing yet except the chance to be heard. For the first time since the 2010 election, large numbers of voters have a grudging curiosity about Labour’s alternatives. The party must move fast to capitalise on that. If it can’t articulate what Labour stands for, voters will lose interest.'

If Labour wins the next election outright, which is now not just possible but probable, then people need to realise what this will mean. There is every reason to believe that Miliband will stick with the team he has until the next election, which means a Cabinet dominated by Ed Balls, Chukka Ummuna, Yvette Cooper and Douglas Alexander. Do we yet know what this means for the country? As Jenni Russell says, we do not, beyond a sense that cuts will be less savage and job creation will be at the heart of an industrial policy.

But the government should take no comfort from this. The Coalition is now infected with the poison of perceived incompetence and the launch of Conservative Voice will not be easily dismissed as the background noise or sour grapes.

Already some Tories are resigned to defeat in 2015. So what happens if Labour gets it policy act together? Now that should be really scary.