Ed Miliband's problems have been well advertised.
They have something to do with his role in the last Labour government. They have a lot to do with the myth of culpability for the financial collapse. They can be explained, in part and as always, by the usual roughing up from the Tory press.
But Mr Miliband is in a deeper hole than those facts suggest. It is a pit from which few politicians emerge. Simple: too few people believe he could or should be Prime Minister. His "personal ratings" are derisory. People, two-thirds of them, look at Mr Miliband and simply say "No".
Labour's heroic optimists will tell you it doesn't matter. Those who act as though Tony Blair never existed will say, ludicrously, that Westminster politics is not "presidential". They'll bore you witless with data on key marginals, the Ukip effect, or the fact - and fact it is - that David Cameron failed to win outright in 2010.
To this recipe will be added the conviction that all the betrayed LibDem voters who have migrated to Labour in England will not be fooled again by Nick Clegg. Then you'll hear, if you stick around, that Mr Miliband's party needs only 35% of the vote for a decent majority. Listen for long enough and you will wind up believing he can't lose.
Still people ask themselves, "Prime Minister Miliband?" Still they say "No". Even Neil Kinnock's failure when victory was for the taking seems trivial by comparison. An electorate in dire economic difficulties is not convinced by Mr Miliband. Voters who have seen the Coalition's true, vested-interest colours are not converted. Labour has a slim lead; the leader is a minority interest.
So he winds up delivering still another "make or break" speech. So he and his team struggle to square the circle. On the one hand, they will deliver public goods to the British public. They will restore economic justice to ordinary folk, individually and collectively. But their first duty will be to the deficit, to austerity, and to the markets. A charismatic populist might get away with this. Labour has Ed Miliband.
"Britain can do better than this," he tells his party. But the electorate for whom these seaside events are staged pass that judgment on him. There will be no economic race to the bottom, he say, "not under my government". But he passes over all the received wisdom, the beliefs by which new Labour was bound, that would make such a liberation possible.
Yesterday's speech in Brighton was the product of much work, so we are told. People who write oratory for a living spent long hours, draft upon draft, crafting the message. Mr Miliband is himself a veteran of speech-writing. But you wonder: why should it have taken so long to find the simple words for what he had to say? Are Her Majesty's Opposition so timid the leader can't just open his mouth to tell us what he thinks?
That's a rhetorical question. Oblivious, Mr Miliband yesterday trapped himself in the usual grim paradox of modern politics. He needed, desperately needed, to come up with a few solid policies. He was obliged to place himself firmly on the side of the ordinary people whose hearts and minds he has to win. Why would that be so hard?
The rules of the game say you don't tip your policy hand ahead of an election. Good ideas must never be stolen, even if voters don't care who solves a problem. The Westminster consensus rules, meanwhile, that a commitment to the majority would be unspeakably radical. So Mr Miliband rearranged a notional national budget. A little here, a little there, a touch of reform, but nothing that would leave Ed Balls exposed before the judgment of the markets.
It might be the heart of Mr Miliband's problem. People are not fooled by the Tory jibes. The polls say they couldn't care less about alleged "union influence". Talk of nationalisation for the railways or the preservation of Royal Mail doesn't frighten them: quite the reverse. The Wallace and Gromit jokes, properly handled, might even make the Labour leader seem endearing. And yet ...
Consistently, the evidence says that Ed Miliband is not taken seriously because those who can be bothered to vote refuse to believe he would make a difference. Those wounded in the financial collapse then add a note of distrust where Balls and governance are concerned. Finally, the sophisticated judge that Labour is trying to sneak back into power by default. They are not, not remotely, inspired.
According to the prospectus offered in Brighton yesterday, Labour might cause a few more houses to be built. Something might be done to put a lid on fares and bills. There might be a partial reform of zero-hours contracts. The minimum wage might begin to approach the level of a living wage. A little help might be given to small businesses. Child care, for some in England, might begin to become affordable. And the disgusting bedroom tax might, barring a few details, become a memory.
What's wrong with that? Nothing, in isolation. But if Mr Miliband is remotely serious about the democratic claims of his "one nation" he is evading the issue.
Economically, socially and politically an entire society has been thrown out of balance since Blair was elected. A tiny minority prosper mightily, the rest are screwed. It is not "impossibilism" to say so. It is not impossible to enact reforms in the name of the majority.
It appears, however, that unpopular Ed is not his own man. He would do well to reflect on the fact when the next set of poll ratings appear. Asking people to wonder if they are better off than they were a few years back is asking them to ponder the bleedin' obvious. Inspirational language, in the Miliband manner, has no traction on lived reality. It seems, however, that he has nothing else to offer.
For local interest, the obligatory mention of Scotland was tokenism. The modern habit of using real people for walk-on parts in a speech was deployed to show that Mr Miliband doesn't want a Glasgow Labour activist "to become a foreigner" if she ever again needs to use the NHS in Liverpool. Who wants such a thing? How was that an argument?
The Labour idea seems to be to envelop Mr Miliband in a warm glow. On offer in place of reform is a feeling - and little more - of decency. The Ed presented is a good, self-deprecating bloke who will try to do good things. But break with "spending limits"? Wonder how those limits arose, by which definitions and by whose criteria? Leaders of the modern Labour Party don't ask those questions.
Unless every poll is a nonsense, people don't buy it. This has less to do with the personality of a man than with his substance. There is a difference between Labour and the Coalition, but it is not enough to make a difference. That's not me; that's the wisdom of the electorate.
Still, it will be fun hearing Scottish Labour activists remembering that votes for 16 and 17-years-olds was always a brilliant idea.
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