‘Honoured that you are writing my father’s biography’ the late Tony Benn, ‘...wonderfully written’ Hilary Benn

‘Sparkles with fascinating detail…a remarkable story of Liberal and Labour politics in the first half of the twentieth century.’ Michael Crick, Political Correspondent, Channel 4 News

‘Casts much light both on the evolution of British radicalism, and on the legacy which he bequeathed to his son, Tony. Professor Vernon Bogdanor, King's College, London

‘Brilliant biography…wonderful reading about the father and...discovering more about the son.’ Steve Richards of The Independent

‘Well-written and carefully researched, this fascinating biography brings to life a major figure in British political history…an excellent job of weaving together the strands of a complex life…as well as filling in the background of the Benn family’ Richard Doherty, military historian

Monday, 10 November 2014

Is Ed Miliband Doomed?

Doomed can be defined as unavoidably destined for failure.

If winning an overall majority at the next election is the only outcome to be regarded as a success, then it is highly likely that both David Cameron and Ed Miliband (and all the other party leaders) are heading for failure. The opinion polls point to another hung parliament, as at the 2010 election.

Success, in the current circumstances should more realistically be defined as emerging as prime minister, whether it is with an overall majority, a viable minority government or as head of a coalition. This definition gives both Ed Miliband and David Cameron a realistic prospect of success.

Under this definition, one of the two - Miliband or Cameron - will almost certainly succeed and the other will fail, but which one? Mathematically, the prospects for each look fairly similar. Opinion poll ratings for the Conservatives and Labour are pretty much neck and neck, but moving in the Conservatives’ favour.

However, the current boundaries and distribution of votes favour the Labour Party over the Conservatives. Labour has more urban seats with lower turnouts, smaller electorates and smaller majorities, so the party’s votes tend to translate at a better exchange rate into seats.

These factors have been shown to work in practice when Labour won 355 seats in 2005 with 35.2% of the vote, while the Conservatives won 36.1% of the vote in 2010, but only achieved 306 seats.

So, the distortions in the system could compensate Labour for being behind in terms of votes. If the total number of seats for Labour and the Conservatives are more or less equal, then the next prime minister may well be the person best able to form a coalition. David Cameron has proved that he can do this, but his party do not want him to do it again. Labour on the other hand, although historically a more coalition-averse party, would have a greater willingness to form a coalition and probably a wider range of potential coalition partners to choose from.

Ed Miliband’s weaknesses could turn into strengths in building a coalition. A modest, consensual and self-effacing leader without too much dogmatic attachment to particular policies could well be a coalition-maker.

So, the short answer is No, Ed Miliband is not doomed. He may yet fail, but between here and success or failure are intentions which have to be turned into votes, votes that have to be translated into seats and, potentially, a coalition-building exercise. It is still perfectly feasible to imagine Ed Miliband just clearing each of these hurdles.

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