How can Labour win in 2015?

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It is not easy being Ed Miliband.  With under five months until the General Election, Labour are still failing to poll more than a few percent ahead of the Tories and can hardly be confident of a majority come May.  Given the scale of the cuts made by the coalition government, one might well wonder how Labour has failed to seize the advantage in the last five years.  Labour’s leadership is part of the problem. With what many find a goofy and awkward manner – highlighted relentlessly by the media – Ed Miliband faces a serious challenge in persuading the electorate that he is a credible leader.  But it is not impossible.  Miliband should not be afraid to set the political agenda; Labour can win this election.

In fact, in the last year, Miliband has produced policies that have proved very popular with the electorate.  His promise to freeze gas and electricity bills until 2017, limit the number of zero-hour contracts, and scrap the hated ‘bedroom tax’ have resonated with those who have felt the pinch in recent years. While they may be over-used, Miliband’s narratives of a ‘squeezed middle’ and a ‘cost-of-living crisis’ resonate with many. Similarly, his desire to implement a ‘mansion tax’ on homes worth over £2 million and raise the top level of income tax to 50 percent help Labour establish itself as the party that cares about ordinary people.

But Labour’s biggest problem is its careless PR blunders.  Take your pick: the accusation that Miliband gave only 2p to a homeless person in Manchester the dismissal of Emily Thornberry from Shadow Cabinet after her ‘sneering’ tweet, and the reports of dissent from senior members of the party, have all harmed Labour’s credibility.  Above all, such mistakes are serious distractions from the Party’s message.  Following the Rochester and Strood by-election, Labour should have been pointing out the crushing Tory defeat after a high-profile campaign.  Instead the attention was focussed on Labour’s failure to connect with ordinary people.

Miliband’s recent speech on government spending sets out the party’s stall ahead of the election and makes a deliberate effort to move on from recent negative coverage.  In his speech, Miliband promised that, were a Labour government to be elected, the budget deficit would be cut year on year while also outlining where the party would make savings.  He also went on the offensive, attacking the Conservatives for their plan to take the nation ‘back to the 1930s’ in terms of government spending.  His calls for more higher-paying jobs not only makes sense in terms of deficit-reduction, but will appeal to workers who feel their salaries have not risen with the cost of living.

Yet Labour must do more if they are to convince voters of their economic credentials.  As of now, Labour clearly lag the Conservatives when it comes to handling the economy; people simply do not trust Ed Miliband and Ed Balls.  And if Miliband is to improve this credibility gap, he needs to be explicit about what Labour would and would not cut.  It is only by being clear and honest with voters that he can hope to win their trust.

Labour needs to reconnect with voters who feel let down by mainstream politics and are drawn towards the simple and populist policies of more radical groups.  This is no time for complacency; while UKIP may be a more serious threat to the Conservatives, the result of the Heywood and Middleton by-election – where UKIP fell 600 votes short of defeating Labour – show they are more than capable of threatening the party’s safe seats.

Miliband has made steps in the right direction, but he needs to further distinguish his policies from the Conservatives over the coming months.  He needs to show Labour is a strong alternative to the current government and refute the idea that ‘all the parties are the same’.

The 2015 General Election promises to be one of the most unpredictable in recent times; while Labour are currently ahead, there’s no guarantee of a majority in May.  Until then, Miliband must work hard to convince both Labour’s traditional supporters and the ever-elusive swing voters, and establish himself as clear Prime Ministerial material.  He does not have long.

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