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Miliband ‘failing to inspire or get message over’, Birmingham study claims

Miliband ‘failing to inspire or get message over’, Birmingham study claims

🕔02.Dec 2014

Ed Miliband has failed to inspire his supporters, unite his party, or give a clear message about what a Labour-run Britain would look like, according to a hard-hitting analysis from a Birmingham academic.

Aston University Professor of Politics John Gaffney has published the results of a four-year study, which concludes that Labour “is in serious trouble” and that Mr Miliband must up his game to have any chance of winning the 2015 General Election.

Prof Gaffney says Labour’s chances of election victory are “slipping away” but it is too late now to change leader and the party has to “stick with Miliband”.

Based partly on focus group research in Edgbaston and Yardley, and on interviews with key Labour insiders, speech writers and political experts, Prof Gaffney’s analysis accuses Mr Miliband of pursuing a “divisive” One Nation policy stance which sought to sideline the successes of New Labour while promoting ideas that proved impossible to explain to voters.

Prof Gaffney argues that contemporary British politics is defined by personality, adding that the Leader is “an almost mythological beast” who must “perform politics in a way that is both powerful and authentic, unifying yet realistic”.

He writes: “Performance is everything, it is what politics is all about. From watching the party conference speech to going to vote, debating in Parliament to discussing politics with a friend in the pub, performance is the articulation of policy, personality and party. If the performance is inadequate, none of these will be represented.”

Mr Miliband’s 2012 Labour conference speech, which promoted his One Nation credentials, ultimately failed because “the narrative did not stick” and it was seen as an open attack on New Labour, according to Prof Gaffney.

“By personalising One Nation as his ‘owned’ narrative, Miliband left himself vulnerable to attacks from both within and outside the Party. A lack of narrative resonance with the public has also meant a lack of resonance with the leader – in effect, the electorate do not know what One Nation is, because it has never been adequately explained to them by Miliband himself.”

Mr Miliband has failed to rally the troops and has no loyal band of supporters to protect him when times get tough, Prof Gaffney claims.

Prof Gaffney said: “It is essential in this era of personality politics that leaders have this solid following. Miliband as a leader has simply not been inspiring enough to attract supporters.

“Miliband fails to inspire his followers because he is not getting the narrative of leadership right. Because Miliband has failed to recruit disciples, the preferred Miliband narrative of One Nation has not united the party.”

Prof Gaffney says Mr Miliband will have to demonstrate “real leadership” over the next five months to improve Labour’s chances of election victory, or at least to secure “an honourable defeat”.

He urges Mr Miliband to sack disloyal and under-performing shadow cabinet members to improve his image as a tough leader.

He adds: “The Labour Party is currently in serious trouble. But all is not lost. Miliband needs to develop a performance that has national relevance.

“It is arguably very late in the day to be doing this, with the general election only six months away, but if a consistent, persuasive narrative can be performed between now and May there is no reason not to significantly enhance the prospects of the party.

“It is essential that Miliband has a team of people who support him and cheer on the One Nation narrative, not simply mumble their support whenever party plot rumours surface. His team must be actively performing the narrative themselves, going out there and being seen by the party, the media and the voters as a unified, slick, powerfully-performed Labour.

“Miliband must give his inner circle an ultimatum; back me or get out. He must be sure that his shadow cabinet are ready for the election and that they are on-message. If they do not support him and the One Nation narrative, they must go.

“For too long, Miliband has distanced himself from the New Labour narrative that for all its faults, served the Party well with its unifying rhetoric. The time has come for Miliband to make his peace with New Labour, to incorporate it into the party narrative.”

He urges Mr Miliband to make clear what Labour’s plans are for the first 100 days of power.

“The party could and should have developed a whole set of distinct policies by now, especially in the key areas of the economy, devolution and immigration.

“The party must articulate their vision of tomorrow. It doesn’t matter if this vision is more mythological than concrete, but right now their supporters have no clue of what the future will look like under Miliband. Show them what a Labour future looks like.”

The main points to emerge from the Edgbaston and Yardley focus groups were:

  • Many are unclear as to Mr Miliband’s identity. There is a general cynicism towards political elites, especially amongst 16-18 year olds.
  • Political elites are seen as having the same backgrounds, with no real distinction between the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat party leaders.
  • There is confusion around the policy and political orientation of elites. For example, the free school meals policy for primary school age children was attributed to Labour rather than the Liberal Democrats.
  • There is a distinct lack of understanding of political processes, institutions and policy.

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