On Wednesday it was the bonfire night rebellion, by the weekend it was the Remembrance Sunday coup. Labour’s abortive attempt to cave in the head of its leader, metaphorically at least, apparently had 20 Shadow ministers ready to call for Ed Miliband to go. They didn’t, so neither did he, and barring something extraordinary Miliband will be Labour’s leader going into the election.
The most captivating part of the whole failed premature ejection was not whether or not Miliband would go – which was always unlikely – but his steadfast and uncompromising refusal to countenance that there could possibly be any truth in the rumours. Time and time again Ed’s office dismissed reports of mutiny as mischief and muck-raking by the Tory press, despite the catalyst for the revolt being a scathing editorial in the left-wing Labour-supporting New Statesman magazine.
The line coming from Team Miliband was that anyone who believed the talk of a plot was an out-of-touch member of the Westminster bubble, though of course if that were the case no one would have known more about it than them. Peter Hain even declared that unfriendly journalists were making up quotes from MPs who didn’t exist, despite several of those MPs being on the record, often with audio and video evidence. Perhaps Hain thought they had been CGI’d.
Even yesterday, when ambushed on live television, Miliband refused to accept there was a crisis of confidence in his leadership. “The answer is no,” he said resolutely. It could all have been a public bluff to throw bloodthirsty hacks off the scent, but the way Miliband shook his head suggested he really believed what he was saying. In fact, Miliband has spent a lot of time shaking his head recently, as this handy video illustrates. You don’t have to be a body language expert to see he is in denial.
The worrying thing for Ed is that this attempted coup is only the very beginning. The worst outcome for Labour is Miliband staying as leader but news cycle after news cycle being saturated by talk of how he is not up to the job. At the moment, when presented with Ed Miliband, the first thing the British public think of is probably ‘bacon sandwich’. In six months, following a winter of questions about his leadership, that may well have changed for the worse. The electorate won’t exactly be drawn to a man who they first associate with weak, divided leadership.
And what if Labour does win? What if Miliband does limp over the line and make it to Downing Street? In his denial, Ed probably thinks he has five, ten even, years of unchallenged rule. But the plotters are not going to be sated by a win at the ballot box. If Labour are mad to go into the 2015 election with Miliband as leader, how crazy would they be to stick with him for 2020, after the public had been subjected to five years of him in charge?
Going into the 2020 election, Yvette Cooper will be 51. Andy Burnham will be 50. Chuka Umunna will be 42. Those three ambitious figures will not be able to afford to wait around for another election. A Labour defeat in 2020 would spell the end of their political careers. It is difficult to see any eventuality other than all three sharpening their knives and trying to take out the leader before the election. Unlike this time, they won’t get it wrong. Miliband may think he has seen off the plotters, but it is if and when he becomes Prime Minister that the real plotting will begin.