Labour Party’s Got Deeper Problems Than Miliband

Ed Miliband’s predicament is reflective of the Labour Party’s ideological divide.

British Labour Party leader Ed Miliband speaks in Gateshead, England, February 8, 2011
British Labour Party leader Ed Miliband speaks in Gateshead, England, February 8, 2011 (Flickr/Ed Miliband)

Britain’s Labour Party leader, Ed Miliband, is struggling to connect with voters. His performances as opposition leader in parliament have been disappointing and despite mounting unease with the ruling coalition’s austerity agenda, his socialists are barely more popular today than they were during last year’s election.

Even if almost 70 percent of Britons believes that slowing budget cuts would boost growth according to a recent poll, less than 30 percent thinks Labour would do a better job than the government. The reason is simple — 74 percent of respondents in another poll last week said that there should be no increase in borrowing to reduce the deficit. That included a majority of Labour voters.

It’s not just that British voters mistrust Labour on the economy. It’s that they don’t trust Labour’s leader. If ever they were willing to give “Red Ed” a chance to prove that he was more than a puppet for party activist and union leaders, he wasted it with his “predators and producers” speech at October’s party conference. There, he attempted to draw a line between honest “wealth producers” on the one hand and “asset strippers” on the other who were “squeezing” people at the bottom, indeed, ripping them off.

This sort of pre-Thatcherite rhetoric doesn’t tend to go well with a nation that’s instinctively laissez-faire. Yet the Labour Party loves it. When Miliband announced, “I’m not Tony Blair,” it was met with thunderous applause from party faithful before he could utter than he wasn’t Gordon Brown, his immediate predecessor as leader, either.

While David Cameron’s conservatives have moved to the center, the socialists have taken a hard turn leftward and many of them hardly recognize it. Coupled with Miliband’s feeble leadership style, it makes for dismal polling numbers. Just 3 percent of voters agree that he is a “natural leader,” half believe that he has no positive qualities whatsoever.

However, “there is something more profoundly wrong with Labour’s present condition than the personalities at the top of the party,” writes The Telegraph‘s Janet Daley, “although,” she believes, “the fact that they are at the top is not unconnected to this malaise.”

The party once again belongs to its hard core adherents. It has apparently given up on — or lost any understanding of — the wider electorate that once gave it a succession of general election victories.

As with committed political activist in any party, Labour’s are convinced that the other side isn’t just wrong but evil. That puts centrists off but Daley points out another predicament the opposition faces in appealing to its core constituency — working-class voters.

The two legs of Labour’s activist base, militant unionism and salon leftism, “may be incompatible on many fronts,” she writes, “but what they have in common is an inexhaustible contempt for the opinions of ordinary people, or more specifically, that cohort of people which determines the outcome of elections.”

The disdain of Labour’s leadership was particularly visible during August’s mob violence in London and other English cities. While conservatives chastised the contemptible behavior of the rioters, Miliband urged Britons to try to understand these poor, desolate youth who, supposedly, were only protesting their deplorable situation, entirely brought on by the coalition’s reckless spending cuts.

This blatant disconnect between Labour and voters has forced the party back into ideological gridlock. As Daley puts it, the socialist mindset seems to be, “if people do not agree with us, we must try harder to make them see the light.” This belief that the British public can be bullied into accepting that its own moral instincts are unsound is foremost what’s keeping Labour from rising in the polls.

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