A massive question mark is hanging over Labour Leader Ed Miliband’s continued leadership this morning, as a YouGov poll for the Sunday Times reveals that just a third of those who backed his party at the last election believe he is up to the job. That figure has dropped from just over half one month ago.
Consequently, the Sunday papers are awash with claims and counterclaims over whether or not senior figures are seeking to challenge Miliband, with the Mail on Sunday is claiming that Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt has “plunged the knife in”, telling colleagues that plans for an election fight-back have been “a total failure” – claims that both Hunt and the Labour Press Office took to Twitter to deny.
A poll for that paper has also suggested that Labour would have a better chance at the next election under a different leader. 26 percent of the general population, rising to 32 percent of Labour voters, say that they would be more likely to vote for Labour under a different leader, although with six months to go until the next election, it may be too late –two thirds said that a change of leadership would make “no difference”.
Shadow Cabinet figures Alan Johnson, Andy Burnham, Chukka Umanna and Yvette Cooper are all tipped to displace Miliband.
The furore began last week when Labour Members of Parliament, at a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party, questioned Miliband’s leadership. Although none was willing to go on record, one MP told the Times “Colleagues are saying we’re in meltdown and freefall. If you [had] asked me yesterday, or even this morning, if Ed could go before the election I would have said no. But now I’m not so sure.”
The discontent prompted a reshuffle of Labour’s election team, with Miliband bringing in his former chief of staff, Lucy Powell, as director of operations for the campaign. Meanwhile Michael Dugher was moved off the team, and into a shadow transport role. Douglas Alexander remains in place in charge of strategy.
A spokesman for Miliband told reporters last night “Ed will win the Election street by street and house by house. You will see much more direct engagement between Ed and voters. He is determined to spend more time out of Westminster.”
According to the Mail, the strategy prompted Tristram Hunt to tell a senior colleague “‘I never believed the answer to Labour’s problems was to show people more of Ed Miliband. It was a ridiculous idea dreamed up by his advisers who have served him badly.
“It has been a complete failure. It is making things worse, not better. Ed has excellent qualities but that is not the way to show them. It is absurd.”
Late last night Hunt took to Twitter to say “MoS story is total nonsense. As I made clear in a full media round on Friday, Ed Miliband is the right person to lead Labour and Britain.”
Shortly afterwards the Labour Press Team Tweeted “Mail on Sunday story is total nonsense and untrue.”
Nonetheless, the vultures are circling. Labour sources have revealed that at least 20 shadow ministers are poised to call for Miliband’s resignation – and will do so if Alan Milburn steps forward. Three anonymous senior Labour MPs have contacted the Observer to confirm the planned defenestration. One said “It has reached critical mass now,” while a second commented “There isn’t a letter [demanding Miliband’s resignation] but there could be one very quickly.” Another said “There is a significant number of frontbenchers who are concerned about Ed’s leadership – or lack of leadership – and would be ready to support someone who is a viable candidate. Alan is that candidate. If Alan indicated he would do it, there would be a massive move”.
Miliband’s team again hit back, with a spokesman telling Sky News “The Observer has got three unnamed people talking about 20 unnamed people, and this is the same paper that complained when the BBC ran a similar story based on two unnamed people. It is ludicrously bad journalism.”
Alan Johnson himself has, for his part, ruled himself out for the time being. He has told the Times “For the avoidance of any doubt, I have no intention of going back to frontline politics. I support Ed Miliband, I’m a candidate at the next general election, so I’ve got an interest in it and I think it’s eminently winnable.
“Even if I was completely despondent — as I’m not — the law of political gravity is that you do not spend two or three months of a precious six-month period up to the general election having an internal fight about who the leader should be.”
Johnson has in the past served as Education Secretary, Health Secretary and Home Secretary, although he is currently on the backbenches.
Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham has also been touted, with his supporters leaning on him to initiate a coup by warning him that, with rising stars such as Chukka Umunna waiting in the wings, leaving it until after the 2015 election may prove his undoing.
“Enough people backed Andy as leader last time and he has the support of the unions as well as some of the old Blairite mob,” one Labour MP has told the Sun.
However, a poll by YouGov for the Sunday Times has found that just 34 percent of those who voted Labour at the last election believe that Miliband is up to being Prime Minister. That figure has dropped from 51 percent a month ago. 42 percent say he is not up to the job, up a massive 14 points from last month, and 45 percent say he should now resign.
The figures are roughly in line with those collected by Survation for the Mail on Sunday. In that poll, 32 percent of Labour voters said they would be more likely to support the party in 2015 if it came under new leadership. The same percentage blamed inexperience for Miliband’s woes, while only 4 percent thought that labour policies were to blame. 36 percent of Labour voters, and 47 percent of the population as a whole thought that the best thing Miliband could do to help Labour win would be to quit.
When voters were given a choice between the Conservatives and Labour, the Labour lead jumped to eight points under the hypothetical leadership of either Alan Johnson or Chukka Umanna, verses only a four point lead with Miliband in charge. Only Yvette Cooper was more unpopular, with the results suggesting an even split between Labour under her leadership and the Conservatives, both on 31 percent.
However, other results indicated that, even under new leadership, Labour’s election battle would be far from plain sailing. When asked which Labour figure most looks like a Prime Minister, Miliband came out on top, followed by Alan Johnson. Andy Burnham trailed the pack. Miliband was also the second most trusted with the nuclear red button, after Johnson. He was considered to be the least “in touch”, while Johnson led on that metric also.