Ed Miliband’s long march begins

Ed Miliband’s long march begins
Carving out a distinctive political brand is tough when there’s no General Election for three years – and that’s why Ed Miliband is today going for a relaunch.

Being Leader of the Opposition requires him to be as fleet of foot as a guerrilla commander whilst maintaining the dignity of a world statesman-in-waiting.

I remember flying to Mexico with Michael Howard when he was Conservative leader.

One of Tony Blair’s aides, also on our flight, couldn’t believe Mr Howard was flying on his own and with no staff.

In Opposition, Tony Blair also had to fly on commercial airlines.

But he was always driven onto the tarmac with his entourage and they boarded the aircraft last. This created the impression in peoples’ minds that he was already a leader-in-waiting.

So it’s hard for Mr Miliband to achieve breakthrough when the media and the public know they don’t need to focus on him or the Labour Party until 2015.

David Cameron didn’t have it all his own way in the early years after seizing the Tory crown.

Gordon Brown enjoyed a fantastic honeymoon period soon after taking the keys to number 10 and would probably still be Prime Minister today had he gone for a snap General Election.

Some Tories began to grumble about Mr Cameron and there were questions about his focus on climate change and refusal to back grammar schools.

But Mr Cameron used the time wisely to carve out a distinctive and credible agenda.

That’s what Mr Miliband aims to achieve whilst in the political doldrums.

First he and his leadership team need to recognise the massive real terms defeat Labour suffered at the 2010 polls.

Britain’s Parliamentary system has flattered Labour with a larger number of MPs than reflected in the national vote.

Ensuring Labour are only a one term Opposition party is a very big challenge in this context.

But there are strengths on which he can capitalise.

The Labour Party has not descended into in-fighting as many predicted. There are always critics and people who object to the leadership and its direction.

But they are not in open warfare as the Conservatives were post John Major – traditionalists ranged against progressives, with William Hague locked in daily battle to maintain a fig-leaf of unity.

There are also a number of remarkably able Labour MPs amongst their 2010 intake.

Figures like Rachel Reeves, Stella Creasy, John Woodcock, Michael Dugher, Chuka Umunna, Tristram Hunt and Gloria de Piero have all made impressive starts.

Mr Miliband’s aim is to define himself with a big argument – “I’m taking on the big, vested interests”.

This theme will allow him to target certain sectors on behalf of the “squeezed middle”. Energy firms, the cost of rail travel and bank bonuses will be singled out. The cost of care is in his hitlist, too.

It’s a consumer campaign aimed at working families.

Strategists in his office say his theme is already hitting the spot, and Mr Cameron is already stealing his clothes.

This is the framework in which Mr Miliband will be communicating this year.

He’ll be hoping his accident-prone first week hasn’t hobbled him at the starting line.

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