current affairs

Analysis: Ed Miliband’s party conference challenge

Over the course of the next few days, Labour has a challenge on its hands as it holds its party conference in Manchester. The challenge is not on its policy, but is on its leader, Ed Miliband.

Over the course of the next few days, Labour has a challenge on its hands as it holds its party conference in Manchester. The challenge is not on its policy, but is on its leader, Ed Miliband.

This is an opportunity for Miliband to present himself and his view on the future of Britain, as polls show the party is in a ten point lead over the coalition, according to the Independent.

There are a couple of reasons as to why this is so, according to John Rentoul, writing in his Sunday column. “Partly, this might be because Ed Miliband, who used to step out of his London home to provide a clip for the television news on just about any story, disappeared over the summer and has rationed his appearances since,” Rentoul said. “He has not tried to interrupt the Government as it provides endless headlines of splits and toffs, which are wearing away the already broken stone of the coalition.”

The former Justice Secretary Jack Straw, writing in The Guardian, said there was a challenge in the leadership within the past year, between the two Miliband brothers, Ed and David. “Two years ago, I voted for David Miliband. I had always found Ed thoughtful, intelligent, committed, funny and thoroughly decent,” Straw wrote. “My worry was whether he was ready for the job. For his first year, I worried that I might be proved right.”

Straw added that within the last year his view of Ed Miliband had changed, including the strength of his partnership with the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer Ed Balls. “In the last 12 months, Ed has found his voice, and his stride. He’s made some important, and tough, decisions, including the abolition of the corrosive, annual shadow cabinet elections,” Straw wrote. “More important, Ed Balls and he have both courageously spelt out, not least to our allies in the trade union movement, that getting people back to work must have higher priority than pay rises in the public sector.”

However, Straw expressed some concern. “The Labour party, in parliament and in the country, is in better heart than I thought it would be. It’s rebuilding its base effectively,” Straw wrote. “But good poll ratings and local election results now do not mean the election in 2015 is in the bag.”

That is where Miliband’s presentation comes in. Each leader, over the course of these conferences, whether it is Miliband, Nick Clegg, or David Cameron, all face challenges in convincing their supporters that they are the right candidates to lead their parties into government with a majority in Parliament. In light of the last few weeks, that convincing has not been easy, from Clegg’s apology for tuition fees, Cameron’s cabinet reshuffle, and questions within the last few months of Miliband’s style of leadership.

Convincing someone, especially a voter, that you are the right leader for a party is no easy task, and from the beginning for Clegg, Cameron, and Miliband, that was a consensus. Indeed, for the Miliband brothers, the idea of which one should run the party still faces Labour today, with David Miliband appearing to endorse a poll that saw him as a more popular leader than his brother, according to a report from the Daily Telegraph. The poll by the Conservatives said 65 percent of Labour supporters preferred David over Ed as the leader of the party.

When he was asked by the BBC about the poll, he played down its significance. “The grass always seems greener on the other side of the fence,” Miliband said according to the BBC. “Ed is doing a great job leading the party, leading with purpose, conviction, direction and what counts is the ideas that he’s putting forward and the party’s putting forward about how to change the country.”

By the time Ed Miliband speaks, and indeed the last of the Labour politicians depart Manchester at the end of the conference, supporters will be asking themselves who is the best leader for Labour.

For one of the big issues, the economy, Rentoul added, the Labour brand is a strong one. “People may prefer the Tory team to Labour’s on the economy, or say that Cameron has the qualities to be prime minister and that Miliband has not, but they take all that into account when deciding how to vote,” Rentoul wrote. “The Labour brand is strong, even in tough economic times, because voters think that Labour would protect people’s jobs.”

Although the next election is not until 2015, Miliband has a lot at stake in the next few days. This will be a test of his leadership, a test of what he can become as a politician, and what he can let Labour become as a party appearing in opposition in the Commons and beyond. In the end, it will be the voters who have their say, so it is crucial that Miliband engages voters in every way, like Clegg and Cameron aim at their respective conferences.

Let the speech begin.