James Forsyth

Why Ed Miliband shouldn’t be underestimated

Why Ed Miliband shouldn't be underestimated
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There is a feeling on the right that with the election of Ed Miliband it is back to the good old days. The thinking goes that Labour have elected a lefty as leader and it is time "to do ‘em over just like we did back in the day".

But this is overly-simplistic. First of all, Ed Miliband is certainly to the left of Tony Blair but he’s nowhere near as far left, compared to the public, as Michael Foot or Tony Benn, or anyone like that. Second, the right in the ‘80s had three fronts on which to attack left-wing politicians: economics, culture and national defence. Now, it only really has one.

The economic argument is, obviously, still live. But the cultural one is now gone. Positions that used to be hallmarks of the loony left in the 1980s are now mainstream and positively embraced by the Conservaitve party. The end of the Cold War also means that the national defence argument has lost much of its salience. Compunding this is the fact that the presence of the Lib Dems in the government means that the Conservatives aren’t going to take any robust positions on national security and terrorism that would open up clear blue water with Labour on these issues.

Those comparing the winning Miliband to Hague and Duncan Smith are also missing something. What was so deadly for those two was the sense that they were losers. William Hague didn’t have a poll putting the Conservatives ahead of Labour until three and a half years into his leadership, and even then it was a blip caused by the fuel protests. By contrast, Ed Miliband became leader with his party only a point behind in the polls. At some point soon, he’s going to go ahead — and it is hard to define someone who is ahead in the polls as a loser. Adding to this is the fact that all the seat projections are done on the current constituency boundaries which massively favour Labour, so even with a slender lead, he’ll appear to be on course for a large majority.

In other words, those suggesting that the next election is in the bag are being premature in the extreme. Ed Miliband is going to be a more formidable opponent than most Conservatives seem to have realised.