The general election is Labour’s to lose – but it’s doing its best to lose it

Labour's declining support

By Jane West

The storm that has swirled around Ed Miliband’s head over recent days has been entirely the result of hostile media manufactures and the machinations of backbench uber-Blairites. But they have exploited the mistakes and terrible weaknesses of Labour’s campaign for the general election.

It is not surprising, after the mauling that Miliband has received over the last weeks, that his approval ratings should fall so low. But it is not really Miliband in particular that capital and its media supporters have in their sights; the issue is who wins in May 2015.

So the reason for this frontal assault on Miliband’s leadership is transparent. Even Labour is not so consciously suicidal as to try to change its leadership six months out from a general election, and the media is not so naive that they believe this likely to happen. The name of the game is to discredit Miliband in order to damage Labour and try to prevent it winning, in one form or another, the general election next May.

And they are desperate because the election next May is Labour’s to lose. The real crisis in British politics is not Miliband’s but the disintegration of the Tory party, in desperate crisis over Europe and haemorrhaging support to UKIP.

Whichever way you look at the figures it is extraordinarily difficult for the Tory party to emerge as even the largest party from next May’s general election, and an overall majority is a pipe dream. With its vote split to the right, added to the realities of Britain’s first past the post electoral system, poll after poll shows Labour plucking the low-hanging fruit in Tory/Labour marginal constituencies.

The only aid capital can extend to the Tories is to use all its resources to drive down the Labour vote.

As a result, variations on the recent media campaigns against Miliband – or other attempts to discredit Labour – will be the picture from now until May.

Labour may have promised to maintain Tory spending cuts, endorsed the public sector pay freeze, pledged to replace Trident, and ruled out borrowing for job-creating investment to boost the economy, save the NHS or build houses; but none of this is enough for capital to feel safe under a Labour government led by Ed Miliband.

Despite holding down wages and reducing real incomes to levels of 10 years ago, profits have still not recovered enough for capital to return to investment. Its demand is far sharper cuts and a much longer period of reducing real incomes.

The Blairites could be relied upon to deliver that, but Ed Miliband is not trusted. The left may understand his rhetoric about ‘predatory’ firms (Miliband’s 2011 Labour Conference speech) and freezing energy prices do not add up to an attack on capital. But for capital even the words are intolerable, opening up the possibility of pressure from the left.

So Labour must be defeated if possible – or Miliband replaced by a more reliable Blairite. The latter is impossible this side of the election, so all guns now are trained on driving down the Labour vote.

Given the crisis of the Tories that should be a pretty difficult job. In the middle of last year one could safely have said that if Labour ran a 50 per cent effective election campaign then the chances were it would have an overall majority. But it hasn’t even run such a partially effective campaign; instead the campaign has been 98 per cent ineffective.

The Labour Party conference in September this year, the last before the general election, was the most uninspiring damp squib imaginable. Its headline message emerged as a freeze on child benefit and a Leader’s speech famous for what had been left out.

For the left the fact that Miliband forgot to mention immigration and the deficit is no great loss. And certainly there is nothing to be gained by Labour bending to the Tory/UKIP agenda on immigration. Those deluded souls that genuinely believe immigration is the source of all their woes rather than the Tory cuts, bankers and bosses, will vote UKIP. They won’t vote Labour however hard Yvette Cooper and other Labour frontbenchers try to play anti-migrant tough ball.

The same can’t quite be said of the deficit. Even a genuinely ‘left’ Labour leadership would have to put out its policies for dealing with the deficit even if it was simply to say that new borrowing for investment would grow Britain out of debt.

But even if the speech had been complete, the speech and the conference overall were not the launch of a buoyant and confident election campaign. It compared badly to the 2013 conference, which would have steered a better course into the election than the emptiness at Manchester this year. At least in 2013 the framework was focused on freezing energy prices, abolishing the bedroom tax and addressing the cost of living crisis. This, however minimal, set out a positive agenda that Labour activists could run with.

What Labour supporters are supposed to campaign on coming from September’s conference is entirely unclear. The conference set an agenda that amounts to little more than the Tories’ cuts and a variant on ‘we are all in it together’.

So the media are determined to drive down Labour’s vote before next May, and they would be determined on this whatever Miliband said or did at this point. But they are kicking at a door that has been weakened by the failure of the Labour leadership to launch an election campaign that catches the concerns of ordinary people, whose living standards have been squeezed till the pips squeak by four and a half years of Tory-led coalition government.

The general election in May is Labour’s to lose. With the electoral system’s arithmetic in its favour and the Tories fracturing, Labour would have to work hard not to win or at least be the largest party.

The left, whilst opposing the media and Blairite attacks on Ed Miliband, also needs to press for a progressive campaign.

There is still time for Labour to shift its election campaign strategy to focus on the concerns of ordinary people; and promise them that a Labour government would address the issues of living standards and services.

But unless Labour gets its act together soon then it is not without the bounds of possibility that it will throw the opportunity of the 2015 election away.