22 May 2015

David Cameron is just better at politics than Ed Miliband


There will come a time for a full “judge-led inquiry” into the undignified end of the Don’t Underestimate Ed Miliband Association, of which I was a co-founder almost five years ago. I have been accused several times since Miliband suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the British electorate of running a classic “false flag” operation on behalf of the centre-right and free market friends who wanted to keep Miliband in place because he would lose. That is utter nonsense. As I keep saying, the contention of DUEMA was never that Miliband would win. We merely argued – and James Forsyth of the Spectator was a fellow founder, along with the esteemed Ben Brogan and William Hague – that Ed M was tougher than he looks and was in with a shot if (if, if, if) he could come up with a convincing message. Miliband was certainly resilient. Unfortunately for his party, he was not very good at politics or reading the mood of England.

Like every pollster and polling guru in the land, those of us involved in DUEMA are having to conduct a thorough investigation into our methodology, although we already know what went wrong. A jape by journalists seeking something, anything, counter-intuitive to say on television went, I can see now, horribly wrong.

But the one person who does not seem to be undertaking a thorough review of his methodology is Ed Miliband.

The impeccably well-informed George Eaton of the New Statesman reveals that Miliband has been telling friends that the electorate, or notional Labour voters, let down Labour by not turning out in the election. He urges his party, it is said, not to stray from the path and it is said that he is telling friends he may back Andy Burnham for the Labour leadership. Stick left. Don’t go to the centre. Keep the faith.

George Eaton claims that Burnham will also get the support of Neil Kinnock, Miliband fan and former Labour leader; Lucy Powell, ally of Ed Miliband; and the Unite union that won it for Ed Miliband. Good grief. Veterans of the 2010 leadership race might be starting to think that the Burnham campaign has a familiar feel about it. I wonder how this ends? How could it possibly go wrong?

But put the backing of Burnham to one side, and it is obvious that blaming the electorate for not voting Labour is delusional stuff on the part of the Milibanders. It makes it sound as though he is blaming the electorate, or saying – Scooby Doo style – “I would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for you pesky voters”. This makes the central lesson of the general election clearer than ever. David Cameron is much better at politics than Ed Miliband.

The older I get (rapidly), the more convinced I become that those who win in politics have the capacity for growth and development. They learn, not always quickly, and adjust course if needed. (Quite often they then forget that they had to do this to get to the top and go megalomaniac after years in office, but that’s another story.)

Thatcher recreated herself several times before she became Tory leader and then allowed herself to be remodelled and honed by advisors to convince the voters. Tony Blair too was interested in developing and learning, although with only a cursory reading of Thatcher’s memoirs to guide him on foreign policy and no understanding of economics he came a cropper in the end. Bad luck, all round, especially for the Iraqis and British taxpayers.

Despite his terrible policies, I thought Ed Miliband might have it and he didn’t, which was my wrong call. Bright as he is, Miliband is an unyielding figure who confused rigidity with principle and never broke out of a soft-left Kinnockian worldview. Even though he, the eternal academic, diagnosed the problem in an industry such as banking correctly, his solution could not be a radical injection of competition. He proposed statist tinkering, as one would expect.

In contrast, David Cameron is endlessly adaptable. Yes, there is a stubbornness there and he can be too slow to move, but he adapts to changing circumstances in the end. Faced with a potential disaster several years ago, with UKIP on the rampage and parts of his own party in revolt, he learnt from his mistakes and fused the best of the Tory modernising approach with a more traditional concentration on a strong economy and aspiration – in a manner which would have been familiar to Macmillan, Thatcher and Major. In this way, he did something quite remarkable – he improved in office, learnt lessons and then won as a result. Ed Miliband, on the other hand got stuck and still does not (to use his own phrase, usually accompanied by a shake of the head) “geddit.”

Iain Martin is Editor of CapX