Nobody becomes Prime Minister “by default”

Matthew Norman today vocalises the dirty dreams of the average Labour supporter – “Has the moment come seriously to consider the prospect that Ed Miliband will be our next Prime Minister?”
His justification is really interesting. Forget all the media wisdom of the last couple of years, founded on the idea that Cameron’s slick PR machine can steamroller anything the ostensibly febrile Miliband offers, and instead consider –

Could he become Prime Minister by default, much like the incumbent, simply by being slightly less off-putting a presence than his rival? Might his optimal strategy be to accept his own presentational difficulties and the fearsome lack of interest in national politics by keeping his trap shut, and leaving the Government to continue its super slo-mo implosion?
The sequence of blunders over which the PM has latterly presided – most arising from the Budget, but with the cobblers about electronic surveillance lending the incompetence impressive range – has been startling, and the speed of his U-turns dizzying. Even when a policy is broadly popular and correct – what gives anyone the right to spend their taxes as they choose? – he is so scrambled by the cumulative post-Budget contempt that he pirouettes in a flash.
The football chant that perhaps captures the nascent public feeling is the one reserved for the manager of a relegation-threatened side after a particularly obtuse substitution: you don’t know what you’re doing.

David Cameron in disguise, according to Matthew Norman

I’m strongly minded to reject this. Firstly, it underestimates the extent to which the Tories are still comfortably in control. Occasional poll victories mean very little. As Norman reminds us,

Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock consistently had larger leads over Mrs Thatcher, and were routed.

The reality is that the Tories are still well in control of the popular discourse on the big stories, which might have slipped down now but will resurface around election time – deficit reduction as an overall strategy being the key one, along with its corollary: reducing the public sector. The message that these things are not necessary remains the preserve of the grassroots left-wing. If Labour attempt to coast into the next election without taming that lion, they will spend another term in opposition – of that, I am certain.
Moving on, the second objection I hold is that I think this underestimates the capacity Labour have to be credible, proactive contenders rather than just hiding and waiting. There is a huge bulk of untapped public opinion against the current direction of economic policy, supported by a message found everywhere in the media, from the blogs of the Guardian to the lyrics of rapper Plan B, “we don’t really like all this talk of austerity and pain, and we’d like an alternative.” Labour can offer that alternative in a sensible, widely acceptable way, provided they’re ready to fight back when the right turn on them with angry accusations about the (mythical – see what will hopefully be tomorrow’s update!) profligacy of New Labour.


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About Jon Robinson

Lefty ex-politics student turned med student, interested in current affairs, economics, gender politics and health issues. Occasionally pretends to understand philosophy. @jon__robinson

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