“A couple of days ago, after Andy Burnham’s LAB conference speech I emailed Henry to get his views on whether Burnham could replace EdM before GE2015. This is his response” – Mike Smithson
Hi Mike, there’s a few questions to address before we get to whether Andy Burnham will replace Ed Miliband before the election. First of all when would Ed go? It would have to be in the next month or not at all. The new leader really needs 6 months at least to get known, take control and help voters get to know them. I doubt the Labour Party would have a coronation. The threshold for the number of MPs required to be nominated has risen to 15% (currently 39 Labour MPs) which would make it harder for the troublesome hard left to oppose. It would require almost all strands of the party to agree.
Unions now have far less of a say but a number of their changes are yet to be implemented, however as important affiliates and large funders for any general election campaign they would need to be sympathetic. The union leaders would be open to any proposals that would help Labour win the general election right now. They were never in love with Ed Miliband but saw his candidacy as representing a important break with New Labour. Despite Burnham’s popularity with the party membership grassroots there’s no guarantee that if Ed went Burnham would automatically take over.
The process of Gordon Brown’s ‘coronation’ was not viewed as a particularly positive or successful experience and there would be others that fancy their chances. While Chuka Umunna and Rachel Reeves are top of the pile of the next generation and may already be preparing for what would happen if the election is lost, they may find it difficult to sit it out if there was an earlier vacancy. Yvette Cooper would also be an obvious contender and if she ever had any desire to be leader then now would be the time. And here lies the issue – there’s no shortage of people who think they could do a better job and have sufficient support to form the basis of a future leadership campaign. But would any of them put this aside for the good of their party’s prospects in 2015 as David Davis did when allowing Michael Howard a free run? I’m not so sure it would be the case.
Some potential leadership candidates give the impression of being more interested in being well positioned to pounce in defeat rather than doing whatever it takes to ensure victory next year. One fancied leadership candidate has already taken to donating sizeable cheques to parliamentary candidates in winnable seats rather than donate directly to the party, which could be seen as an unspoken attempt to purchase future political loyalty and support with MPs.
There are also noble reasons for being so cautious – personal loyalty to the man who they owe their position and promotions to, fear of a divided party and general uncertainty about whether the risk is worth it. And many politicians and people loathe uncertainty. The film Withnail and I captured the pain of decision-making when rapid judgments are often required with a slowly deteriorating situation. “If you’re hanging on to a rising balloon, you’re presented with a difficult decision — let go before it’s too late or hang on and keep getting higher, posing the question: how long can you keep a grip on the rope?”
For as a long as Labour leads the Conservative Party in the polls, it will be hard for anyone to make a move and justify it to colleagues and constituents. However the sense of worry and foreboding is growing.
The way that poll leads shifted so quickly in Scotland has rightly reminded people that public opinion is not set in stone. The weight of sustained attacks on the SNP from business and newspapers in the last weeks of the referendum campaign would be amplified against Labour. The party conference was flat and nervous not bristling with electricity and determination as was the case in the run up to 1997. A lot of Ed Miliband’s supporters are privately disappointed with how the speech has worked out for their man. However activists are always aware of their respective leaders’ shortcomings – they hear all the time what people think. However it would probably take the Conservatives having sustained poll leads and a shock defeat in the Heywood and Middleton by-election for any concerns to turn into panic and create the climate where a leader steps down.
By my reckoning I now think that there is only a 10% chance Ed Miliband will be replaced before the general election. If that happened then there’s about a 60% chance of ‘coronation’ and then a further 60% chance Andy Burnham would be the candidate people unite around. If there’s a leadership contest following Ed’s departure prior to May 2015, I think there’s a 70% chance Andy would win it. But all that leaves with about a 6% chance Andy would be leader at the election and a 90% chance Ed Miliband will be. By historic standards Labour is united.
The plotting isn’t there but planning for what should follow in the event of an election defeat is. This week’s Labour conference was the penny dropping for many in the party, that for all the Tories ‘ problems and the unpopularity of their policies, Labour may still lose a general election some had mistakenly thought would fall in their lap.
Henry G Manson