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Miliband the winner from conference season and its aftermath

October 16, 2013

The dust has settled on the party conference season, the reshuffles have been played out and the first batch of autumn opinion polls are out. Who are the winners and losers?

Before the parties headed off for their conferences I wrote a piece suggesting that all three leaders were playing for high stakes and that if one of them got things wrong they could find themselves out of a job in advance of the 2015 General Election. This looks less likely now the politicians are back at Westminster but by no means impossible.

Ed Miliband has come out slightly in front, not because his over-rehearsed conference speech made anyone sit up and look at him afresh, although the attack on energy prices was effective, but because of the way he responded to the Daily Mail’s bizarre attack on his father. This over-shadowed the Tory conference and showed that Miliband is a fighter and not afraid to take on a powerful enemy, earning greater respect across the political spectrum. It will help him convince people that he is prepared to take on the difficult challenges such as capping energy prices. This crude red-baiting by the Daily Mail could well turn out to be an even greater mis-judgement in the longer term than it looked on the day it was published if it helps propel the very man they were trying to smear into 10 Downing Street.

David Cameron and Nick Clegg also came through their respective conferences unscathed. Many commentators rightly observed that Clegg, in policy terms, unusually had it all his own way at the once notoriously rebellious Liberal Democrat conference. This is more a reflection of the changing nature of the party’s membership than any new found authority on Clegg’s part. The big drop in membership of the Liberal Democrats since the 2010 election has been concentrated among the old radical left of the party, making the policy upsets of the past much less likely.

Clegg’s tough reshuffle
Once back at Westminster, it was Clegg who was the more brutal with his reshuffle, ditching several relatively popular ministers such as Michael Moore and David Heath. He does seem to be the master of his party but he isn’t carrying the voters with him in the same way according the most recent opinion polls. The huge challenge looming on the horizon for the Lib Dems is the European Parliament elections next year. They do not do well in European elections because their strong pro-European stance is not popular. If they start from a base of 10% to 12% in the opinion polls the elections could turn into a disaster for them, especially if there is a strong showing from UKIP and the Greens. Clegg should still be nervous.

UKIP makes Tories nervous
The Tories are playing the slow economic recovery very well and certainly the once vulnerable George Osborne looks secure as Chancellor for the rest of this Parliament. As for David Cameron, he had a decent conference and hasn’t created any significant enemies with his reshuffle (a constant problem for Margaret Thatcher). Like Clegg, his big danger point is the European elections where a strong showing for UKIP could unnerve Tory MPs. However, if UKIP continues to wilt under the increased scrutiny – it had a very poor conference – then maybe that won’t be such a problem.

The challenge for the Tories is to keep Labour within touching distance in the polls – 5% or less – so that the gathering strength of the economic recovery and a well-financed election campaign give them hope of at least remaining the largest party in 2015.

Overall, I think is less likely that any of the major parties will change leader before the next election than I did before the conference season: I do not think it is impossible, however.

From → Politics

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