24 February 2010

The challenge for David Miliband

Now, we must turn to the other David.  The Foreign Secretary gave a little speech to Demos yesterday.

In the New Labour corner, John Rentoul thought the speech was fine, while in not-so-Blairite corner, James Macintyre made similar comments.

Over in the blue corner, both David Blackburn and Iain Martin failed to understand a word of it.

Iain goes on to say:

For all that Miliband is still hailed in certain quarters as self-evidently the only choice Labour has for its next leader, one wonders. Can his advocates imagine him connecting with the public and making himself understood by his fellow Britons? Really?

In these “certain quarters” a small debate has broken out:

Second, he took issue with my suggestion yesterday that Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, might be a strong choice as Labour leader if the election produces a hung parliament. He says:

Whatever the result, Labour must rebuild itself.  It needs to look to the long-term rather than choose a stop gap leader that may not fight the following general election ... Win, lose or remain in power as the largest party, there is no alternative to David Miliband.

I yield to no one in my admiration of the Foreign Secretary, but I also yield to public opinion, which is as yet not wholly persuaded of his potential. And I think that Johnson is in a strong position to find common ground with the Liberal Democrats.

The point that John and Iain make is important.  It is to do with image.  That is what gets discussed down at the Dog & Duck, rather than the odd speech that is quickly forgotten.

Robert Worcester turns his thoughts to this topic, where he focuses on how floating voters make up their minds:

It’s a combination of leader image and party image, whether they think the leader is capable, and if they understand the problems facing the country and a host of other less important image attributes, such as being a nice guy or not, or more in touch with public opinion than the other guy. And whether they think the party has a good team of leaders and listens to the views of ordinary people.

Worcester goes on to argue how the image of a leader and their party are closely aligned:

But while just over a third of people say they like Gordon Brown, 35%, some 45% say they like David Cameron, a ten point lead for the Conservative Leader. In January, the average Tory share of the 13 polls taken was 40%, the average Labour share was 30%. Fancy that.

At the present time, Miliband does have a problem with his image, but once he leaves office this could change.  It’s a challenge that he must rise to.  Don’t forget Cameron’s image was virtually unknown outside the Westminster village when he was elected.

Alan Johnson will only be interested, as John has said, if there is a hung parliament.  He will not want “worst job in the world” of leading the opposition.

We can all discount Ed Balls.  His image will not inspire a single voter.

If not Miliband, then who?

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