Ed Miliband: Saviour of the Left

The news last week that credit ratings agency Moody’s would cut Britain’s top rate from AAA to Aa1 is a major blow to the Government. Deficit reduction is the central plank of the Coalition’s economic policy. This is one of a growing number of signs that the policy is not going well.

But some will see the news as a vindication Ed Miliband. Labour has long argued that deficit reduction should not take priority over growth since the former depends on the latter.

I want to make an admission now. I am slightly unusual. While I am neatly on the centre right, I rate Ed Miliband very highly. He is a very capable politician who, in my view, has led his Party prudently. But Ed Miliband is also the first politician since Thatcher who could lead a major realignment of the political spectrum.

Ed Miliband is a talented man, and not just because he can complete a Rubik’s Cube in less than 60 seconds. He has put the Prime Minister on the back foot at several points over his time as leader, most notably over the phone hacking scandal. He has revealed enough of his political philosophy to give us a sense of how he would govern. Wisely, he has only revealed specific policies where they suit him. Giving away too much policy detail so long before an election may mean that a party has no flexibility as the election draws near.

Perhaps his most important decision was to end the constant and petty attacks on Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats. Under Harriet Harman’s acting leadership, Labour nothing better than to turn on the junior coalition partners. This rhetoric was disastrous. At a time when roughly half of Liberal Democrat supporters were turning elsewhere, Labour seemed unwelcoming and spiteful.

Ed Miliband has now begun to reach out to the Liberal Democrats. He has offered to work with them to reform press regulation and there is even talk of texting between the Labour Leader and Business Secretary Vince Cable. Where Labour has revealed policies, these are now squarely aimed at wooing Liberal Democrat voters. At the culmination of this strategy, Ed Miliband recently announced that Labour would introduce a Mansion Tax.

It is by uniting Liberal Democrat and Labour supporters behind his party that Ed Miliband could reshape Britain’s political landscape.

Since the Thatcher years, all governing political parties have been forced to win votes on the centre right. The Conservative Government of the 1980s and 1990s sat firmly on the Right. When Blair created New Labour in the 1990s, he positioned the party to win votes from disillusioned Conservative supporters. Again, Blair leant to the Right to gain office.

While David Cameron moved his party towards the centre, he and it remained on the right of the political spectrum. Subsequently, the Coalition Government has governed on the Right, pursuing a strict policy of reducing public spending.

This has largely been because the Left has been divided. Nobody has been able to unite the unruly Left behind a single party, and the result is that parties of the Left have been forced to look elsewhere for votes. The Coalition changes that fact dramatically because, by entering Government with the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats lost about half of their support.

At the 2010 General Election, the Liberal Democrats won 23 per cent of the vote. Recent polls show them getting as little as 10 per cent of support. The Liberal Democrats, always a coalition between the centrist liberals and left-wing social democrats, have effectively lost a good part of their left wing. There are between 10 and 15 per cent of voters, who are former Liberal Democrats that could now support another party.

The Labour party has a healthy lead in the polls and it has certainly benefitted from the Liberal democrat collapse. The result is that the Left could be united behind Ed Miliband’s Labour Party.

The challenge for Ed Miliband, still a largely unknown party leader, is to maintain that lead up to the election. Governing parties often poll better as an election gets approaches. There are also the debates to survive. Though, having sat through a considerable amount of the 2010 Labour hustings, I think that Ed Miliband will thrive in the debate setting. He is quick witted and has a disarming sense of humour. He will perform far better in that format than he does in Prime Minister’s Questions.

But perhaps Ed Miliband’s biggest headache will come after the election. If he succeeds and brings together a coalition of the Left, then he will have to govern. Leading a government while managing a broad, unruly alliance of left-wing supporters will be no easy ride.