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Why I think Miliband will become PM, why he deserves to, and why that is best for Britain

Posted on 7 May 2015 | 9:05am

Elections are among the days politicians and activists both love the most and hate the most. Love because the whole country at least has a sense that this is the most important thing happening anywhere today, and because right up to 10pm you can win another argument and win over another waverer and get them to the polling booth on time. Hate because no matter how well or how badly you have controlled the agenda, the control is now no longer with you. It has shifted decisively, definitively to the public. Democracy in action. What’s not to love?

All elections provide the answer to a basic question which, during the heat of battle, is sometimes not entirely clear until the end, when all the results are in.

If I go through all the elections I have been involved in, first as a journalist and then as part of the Labour team from 1994, it seems to me the questions are these.

1987 – does Margaret Thatcher have a sufficiently clear agenda and a sufficiently strong record to merit a third term? The country said yes.

1992 – is Labour ready to be a party of government again? The country said No. They were not exactly wild about John Major but they thought he was just about good enough.

1997 – is New Labour real? Is Tony Blair a potential Prime Minister? The country said yes in the language of landslides.

2001 – has New Labour done enough to merit a second term? Yes. Another three figure majority.

2005 – what about a third term, and in particular who is best for the economy? Are we ready to go back to the Tories? Again, even after Iraq and even with all the difficulties between Tony and Gordon Brown, the country said yes to Labour but with the majority down, and with a sense that at some point they wanted change at the top.

2010 – is the country ready for change and is the answer David Cameron? The answer to the first part was yes. The answer to the second part was ‘we are not sure.’ And the coalition was born. I predicted it, according to Philip Gould’s book, nine months out. Why? Because that was where the political centre of gravity was developing. The question was answered with an uncertain reply because that is how the country felt.

So the 2010 answer was more complicated than any of the previous ones. And the 2015 answer may be more complicated still.

Here is the question the Tories hoped that people would answer with a resounding yes today.

Is the economy on the mend and is that down to David Cameron and George Osborne?

They hoped that led to a second related question. Does David Cameron look and sound more like a Prime Minister than Ed Miliband?

Cameron thought yes to both was enough for a campaign at the start of which he said that anything less than a clear Tory majority, allowing him to govern unencumbered by the Liberal Democrats, would represent failure in his own eyes. Time to go time. Make way for – he even named them – Osborne or Johnson or May.

Well, as he sat down to breakfast today, he did so with a sinking feeling that the country might not answer yes in quite the numbers he imagined.

Has the economy improved and do he and Osborne get the credit? They have made the mistake of believing their own propaganda. You can find plenty of data that says there has been improvement. And they have plenty of media outlets who have reported such data to the exclusion of the data that suggests their claims of economic miracle do not match the reality of millions of lives. With every boast that has actually played into the Labour attack that this recovery has helped the people at the top but not the majority.

The one political success I have always given them is the way they managed to persuade themselves, most of the media, a lot of business, and some members of the public that Labour spending and borrowing caused the global financial crash, rather than the disgusting antics of their friends in the money world in the US and elsewhere.

I have also been consistent in saying Labour has not done enough to rebut all that. But even without that rebuttal, having spent a fair bit of time both at Labour HQ and out on the road in key marginals, my sense is the public have a much more nuanced sense of where blame lies for the crash and who is best placed to take the next steps forward for our economy.

Ed Miliband’s central message, that Britain does best when working families do best, is essentially both a many not the few message, but also a values message about who and what we are as a country and as a people.

The media has barely covered the growth in food banks over the past five years. But I found undecided voters often bringing it up as something that caused them real concern bordering on shame. Yes, some had imbibed the Tory line. But many others felt that there had been no reckoning after the crash, that the Tories still stood up for and defended those who had really caused it – not Gordon Brown who actually helped save the world economy at the time of the crash – but the investment bankers still raking in massive bonuses, the hedge funders who bankroll Cameron’s campaign, the non doms and tax dodgers who think there should be one rule for them and their many homes and another for those who can’t afford to buy or rent a home at all. Standing up for those who caused the crash, and punishing those who didn’t, was a potentially fatal error by Cameron and Osborne.

All this plays to a sense of fairness that despite the brutality of our media on these issues – where the tax dodging press owners urge Tory votes pretending it will be good for their readers when actually it is good for them, their wealth and their power – most people have in their DNA.

Here is the other thing about this election. If it was decided by Murdoch and his papers, Dacre and his papers, the Barclays and their papers, David Cameron would be heading for a majority bigger than any ever enjoyed by Thatcher or Blair. But it is not and Cameron would seem not to be heading for a majority at all which, by his own definition, represents failure and defeat.

Incidentally I do hope that the Electoral Commission, and possibly even the police, are investigating the emails sent out by the Telegraph editor today to readers urging a Tory vote. First, should it be considered an election expense? Second, has there been a breach of the Data Protection Act?

The press was pretty hysterical in 1983, 1987 and 1992. We managed to tame them for a few years when they knew we were going to win. But this time Ed Miliband has been subject to a campaign of vilification which must make even Neil Kinnock feel he got off lightly.

That is if you like a sub-question that this election is answering. Is the press as powerful as once it was? The answer is no. Is social media more important? The answer is yes. But are either the deciding factors? No.

If Ed Miliband does become Prime Minister – and I will explain shortly why I think he probably will – it will be a great thing for democracy that he has done so without courting or needing the support of the vicious, self-serving, nasty, deeply unbritish right wing media.

I hear The Sun has today wasted a few inches on an editorial claiming that because I signed a pro- Leveson, anti Murdoch/Dacre petition yesterday, this ‘let the cat out of the bag’ about Labour’s real agenda. That it was all about curbing the freedom of the press to stop them writing bad things about what it calls ‘lefties’ – these are people who do not share Murdoch’s very right wing view of the world.

The reason I supported Leveson was because serious wrongdoing had been exposed, had disgusted the country, which wanted a genuinely free press not the one we have now, owned by a small number of right wing oligarchs who wouldn’t know the truth if it bit them on their saggy arses.

When push came to shove, despite saying he would side with their victims, Cameron sided with the strong not the weak. Miliband sided with the weak not the strong. That is leadership. This is a side issue for the campaign but one worth reflecting on, for it exposes the real agenda behind the viciousness in display over thousands of front pages in recent years, culminating in the hate-filled hysteria of recent days. Miliband dared to stand up to vested interests. That is a good sign.

So the question at the heart of this election is this ‘has Cameron done enough to deserve another five years in power?’ The polls could be wrong, but the answer that appears to be forming is No.

So then, again if the polls are borne out, the question becomes ‘has Ed Miliband done enough to be in a position to be asked to try to form a government?’ And the answer to that is yes.

It is be found in the manual signed by Cameron, and agreed by Nick Clegg, paragraph 2.12, which addresses the issue of hung Parliaments. You are likely to be hearing a lot about it this evening if the exit polls confirm the opinion polls of the last few weeks.

‘Where an election does not result in an overall majority for a single party, the incumbent government remains in office unless and until the Prime Minister tenders his or her resignation and the Government’s resignation to the Sovereign. An incumbent government is entitled to wait until the new Parliament has met to see if it can command the confidence of the House of Commons, but is expected to resign if it becomes clear that it is unlikely to be able to command that confidence and there is a clear alternative.’ The clear alternative is likely to be Ed Miliband’s ability to command a Commons majority for a Queen’s Speech.

Now there is one other big question being asked, most loudly in Scotland, and that is about whether our political system is fit for purpose. Here again I must return to the fundamental weakness of Cameron – his constant confusing of tactics and strategy and especially his woeful, shameful decision to use the too close for comfort independence referendum result to try to fight Scottish nationalism with English nationalism. He put the booster rockets under nationalism and the SNP every bit as much as Nicola Sturgeon has. Just as he was prepared to put EU membership at risk with a tactical response – the In Out referendum – to UKIP, so he is prepared to put the Union at risk. His attempt to portray Scottish MPs as somehow inferior or unworthy has been disgusting. His handling of Scotland and Europe alone, let alone all the broken promises, render him unfit for purpose.

What it shows – as do his billions of hidden benefit cuts and his billions of unfunded spending promises on the NHS – is that he is prepared to say and do anything to have a few more weekends clinging on the right to chillax at Chequers. He does not deserve to win. That is why I believe he won’t.

Ed Miliband, if he does become Prime Minister, will do so having shown he can make and win difficult arguments and do so in the face of a wave of powerful vested interests who have thrown all the money and the lies they can muster.

The question then will be ‘is he up to the job?’ That was the question the public asked of David Cameron by putting him on a period of probation by denying him a majority and forcing him to work with others.

As with every Prime Minister, we will only fully know when it happens. Having watched and worked with Ed Miliband closely over this campaign, and having seen him grow into the role as the heat has risen, I think he will be able to answer that question in the affirmative much more convincingly than Cameron has. I certainly hope he gets the chance. I for one believe he has earned it.

  • Damon

    I agree that Camerons language towards the Scottish has been desperate and vile. He is the PM for the UK not just England and has been irresponsible at best in trying to turn England against Scotland in this way. Whether you like SNP and Sturgeon or not, their vote is as valid as anyone elses and if they support a Labour government then this is as legitimate as any other union. He should remember that during the Scottish referendum, he was supporting the ‘No’ vote (although we didnt see much of him). If he supported the No vote, then he needs to treat the Scottish with the same respect as any other UK citizen… even if it means that SNP support ends his lacklustre reign in Number 10.

  • Ehtch

    Pathetic article in the Daily Wail today – they give a list of seats in where to vote tactically for someone else, to take Labour out. It is like telling your team to lose against Arsenal if you really hate Chelsea. Too late now, on both fronts. And how can you be a member of Sheffield Hallam area Conservative Club and have the heart to vote for Clegg? It’s all desperation.

  • Geedon Bruce

    I feel so moved by the last paragraph, it’s hard not to break down and cry at the sheer poignancy, not of Ed’s position; not the Labour party’s position; but the position that the British people are in. We are on the precipice of a terrifying fall into an abyss or a flight into a future where there is still hope that we as a nation, united by progressive, decent human values, can do fine, noble, even great things.

  • anna

    I agree that Ed has grown in stature despite the worst that the right wing vilification threw at him. My great concern is that at no time did he, or any major figure in the Labour Party challenge the Goebbels-like tactics of the Tories over the deficit. ‘Tell a lie big enough and often enough and it becomes the truth’. The lie/myth about the deficit has become the truth. Until the banking crisis, the Labour Party had the nation’s finances in pretty good shape. The structural deficit was actually 36% of GDP as opposed to the 42% they inherited from the Tories.

    There’s a quote below from the Institute of Fiscal Studies that could be neatly summarised as ‘1997 – 42%; 2008 – 36%. ‘

    The Labour Party should have hit the Tories and the squalid Lib Dems over the head with these simple figures every time they mentioned the deficit. and if they mentioned ‘the mess we inherited’ Labour should have shouted ‘FROM THE BANKS’.

    Here’s the quote:

    Over the first eleven years of Labour government, from 1997 to the eve of the financial crisis
    in 2007, the UK public finances followed a remarkably similar pattern to the first eleven years
    of the previous Conservative government, from 1979 to 1989. The first four saw the public
    sector move from deficit to surplus, while the following seven saw a move back into the red.
     By 2007 Labour had reduced public sector borrowing slightly below the level it inherited from
    the Conservatives. And more of that borrowing was being used to finance investment rather
    than the day-to-day running costs of the public sector. Labour had also reduced public sector
    debt below the level it had inherited. As a result the ‘golden rule’ and ‘sustainable investment
    rule’ that Gordon Brown had committed himself to on becoming Chancellor in 1997 were both
    met over the economic cycle that he eventually decided had run from 1997–98 to 2006–07.

  • reaguns

    I suspect the final Question Time might have made a bit of a difference, either that or ordinary people asking the same questions of each other up and down the country.

    Ed Miliband, Ed Balls, even Alan Johnson, Alastair, the lot, they keep peddling this line “Labour didn’t cause the Global Financial Crisis ™”.

    Two things:
    1. To the extent that there was a global downturn, it is true that labour didn’t cause it. Unless you believe it was caused by finance and investment bankers. Which it seems you do. In which case 10 years of labour government presiding over further expansion of the financial sector are part of what is to blame. But far more importantly:

    2. As the bloke told Ed on Question Time it was categorically NOT a global financial crisis. There was no such crisis in Canada, Australia, Switzerland etc and far lesser effects in Germany and many other places. Britain fared worse, one of the worst in the world. 2 reasons, one is that as Ed said Britain is more exposed to finance, and the second is that labour were running a 3% deficit 14 years into the growth cycle, a non-keynesian policy, and so had less scope to respond to the crisis. And regarding the reliance on finance, this got worse not better under labour!

    Another point to make: Ronald Reagan, by far the most right wing, and also the most successful, western leader since Churchill, also faced a financial crisis. He jailed a couple of thousand bankers. Why didn’t Gordon Brown do the same?

    I want a strong labour party, a strong opposition. I will say more on the other thread. But I will never vote for them unless they do two things:

    1. Admit their mistakes re the crash, the deficit and the financial sector. Never, ever, ever use the term “Global Financial Crisis.”

    2. Return to being the party of British working people. Not British benefit claimants. Not foreign/immigrant working people. And not criminals, Britain or foreign.

  • So has your political judgement gone sour – I think your instincts are just wrong nowadays
    Take a break….maybe 5 years

  • scooke7


  • Stripey

    I’m reading this on Saturday evening, Alastair, with a smile on my lips and joy in my heart. The expression on your face when you saw the BBC exit poll was worth staying up all night for. I can’t wait to see you eat your kilt.

    You were wrong, wrong, wrong! And I know I mustn’t gloat, but I can’t help it.

    It was not because you failed to get your message across, it was because you failed to remember that governments don’t have any money – it is Taxpayers money, and you must spend it with care.

    I agree very much with reaguns comments below, except that I am a confirmed Conservative, through and through. I am old enough to remember Dennis Healey, taxing the rich “Till the pips squeak”. The Beatles even wrote a song about it. Labour is always profligate with the finances, Tax and Spend, – remember all the GB “Stealth Taxes”?

    We the taxpayers don’t much like the Mansion Tax either. And as far as I’m concerned, non-doms can carry on, Starbucks must stay within the law, Google ditto. If they make a profit in Switzerland, they must pay Swiss taxes. If they make a loss in the UK, no tax is due. Their employees pay income tax, road tax, VAT, – good luck to them as long as they stay within the law. I would do the same if I could. If anybody would like to pay more tax, please send a cheque to HMRC. They will be pleased to accept it, I am sure.

    All the old guard – including you – have to go. You won’t be missed.

    Ed Miliband does become Prime Minister – and I will explain shortly why
    I think he probably will – it will be a great thing for democracy that
    he has done so without courting or needing the support of the vicious,
    self-serving, nasty, deeply unbritish right wing media. – See more at:

  • Pingback: Staying in Europe will be David Cameron’s acid test for Britain | Woolly Days()

  • Bruce Jacobs

    The public have a much more nuanced view of where the blame lies. Oh my word, yes we did. Considering that your career was about gauging the public mood, maybe it Is time (it is) that you withdrew from the last glimpses of the public eye left to you and start a more serious contemplation of the utterly awful person you have been over the years. You have delighted in destroying good people for your own ends and to this day still feel the wrong lies with anyone else but you. As you fade inexorably away, still so young in reality but with your productive days wasted, never forget that your place in the public consciousness will always be that of an aggressive unpleasant oaf who was ultimately found out.

    • Michele

      Oh my goodness gracious me has this piece of cowardly spite been sitting here for 7months?

      Talk about PKB and doesn’t it speak volumes that the poster was so worked up s/he created an ID for this one post that apparently hasn’t been used elsewhere on disqus?

      The two uppers are also trail-less wimps.

  • R Marshall

    I have read this article somewhat belatedly, but with much hilarity and joy.

    What woeful arguements you make to labour your point. It does you no favours to argue that Miliband had done enough to be Prime Minister – indeed he was anonymous and muddled in trying to get any coherent message across to the electorate. The fact that a clear majority disagreed with you in this shows how out of touch you are. Indeed so far removed are you from us electorate ‘minions’ that you forget that we live in what we call a democracy. You dismiss the idea of a referendum on our membership of the EU (a membership that we were dragged into without any say in the first place, remember) – on what basis? In or out, right or wrong, people are entitled to their say. I’d hazard a guess that that is what swayed many voters to give the Tories a clear majority. Cameron read it, Miliband did not. Even Harman is now jumping on the bandwagon. Your views it seems, like those of many politicians, are largely irrelevant to the average voting Joe.

    I was brought to your page by your piece on the late great Charles Kennedy, a touching tribute if I may say. Sad to lose such a fine politician whose principled stance and general warmth, good grace and humanity will be sorely missed. You and many others who have the HONOUR of representing their electorate would do well to realise why he was so highly respected.

    +1 to Bruce for telling it like it is…