He’s long been seen as out-of-touch. His party’s poll numbers have been miserable for at least two and a half years. His own backbenchers think him aloof at best; at worst they downright hate him and are prepared to vote against his leadership.
Yet David Cameron’s problems seemed to pale this week in comparison to Ed Miliband’s, who suffered that very Westminsterish problem of a supposed coup instigated and supported by “anonymous sources”. Nobody ever actually popped up to say that there should be a leadership election but various Shadow Cabinet members were nevertheless wheeled out, their words minutely examined by overexcited political journalists for any hint of disloyalty.
If you’re a Labour supporter, however, there’s still no point in pretending that everything’s alright. It’s clearly not: poll rating are not even reaching the underwhelming task of getting to 35% that Labour set for itself. There’s no point blaming this on the media, as some seem to be doing, continuing an obsession with Murdoch, the Mail and supposed BBC bias that is in danger of matching, for misdirected passion and sheer irrelevancy to most voters, the Tories continual focus on the EU. The Twitter campaign “webackEd” – I refuse to add the hashtag – was simply cringeworthy.
Yet here we are, a week away from the Rochester by-election that the Conservatives will get thumped at – a by-election they promised to win. Tory backbenchers are eternally restless and frustrate their leader’s efforts to drag their party to the centre (where the votes are) at virtually every opportunity. No doubt they’ll harp on some more about the EU in the coming weeks as those seats they should be holding or winning, and have to win to get a majority, in places like Watford, Milton Keynes and the Northern cities slip away.
My colleague Ben is right to some degree when he notes that Labour can’t “persuade Britain that it can do a better job than the Conservatives in tackling the Government’s deficit” and improving people’s lives – but people don’t much think the Conservatives will do anything about the latter either.
Most people did not view the increase in public spending as a mistake (otherwise they would not have voted Labour Governments with comfortable majorities in 2001 and 2005), nor do many hanker, despite what Tory backbenchers in the comfortable shires will say, for Major Government era levels of public spending and associated 18-month hospital waiting lists. The Tories keep pushing the Red Ed tag but, actually, Miliband’s more interventionist policies, such as the energy prize freeze, are wildly popular.
Essentially, if Labour are publically having a bad time of it, then so, just a bit less publically, are the Conservatives. Both parties are prone to in-fighting but at least Labour have some fresh ideas to go with it. Despite this, in just over six months then one of these underwhelming men will be Prime Minister. What a thought.