This week, the ESA landed the Philae probe on a comet travelling through space. One of the probe’s aims is to help scientists predict the chaotic movement of comets. Currently they can’t and thus do not know when or where a comet will hit Earth and cause mass devastation to the people who inhabit it.
A similar view could be taken on the UK General Election scheduled for May 2015. Nobody, no matter what they claim, has any idea who will win. It is entirely unpredictable. So we are left with the question, could the result be devastating for the UK?
It may be hyperbole, but Labour Leader Ed Miliband has been the primary recipient of such questions. Is his politics right for Britain in 2014? Could his market interventionist approach damage the UK economy? Has he the strength and support to lead?
Yesterday, during a speech in London, he attempted to address these questions. Some would say he succeeded. On his leadership, he said he has a thick skin, and linked Labour policy to his own deeply-held beliefs. He argued his politics is not one of the past but one of future and berated the Conservatives and UKIP for “failed old beliefs”.
Indeed, his riposte to UKIP’s platform was the most eloquent delivered by any party leader yet. He said that he didn’t believe UKIP’s “vision of the past” would result in the kind of country people want, due to UKIP’s views on gender, homosexuality, the NHS and immigration. However, while Miliband said Labour wouldn’t “out-UKIP UKIP” on immigration, to say it is not a concern would be disingenuous. Miliband spent a portion of the speech on immigration because of this very concern; UKIP could take Labour votes. Proposals to limit entitlement to benefits and ensure immigrants learn English would sit comfortably in either a UKIP or Conservative manifesto. Miliband knows this but also that he can’t ignore the issue.
In the Q&A, Miliband answered a question on the UK’s membership of the EU. He’s argued this week that, both here and at the CBI, that leaving the EU “would be a disaster for our country”. In that sense, the Conservatives are the chaotic comet, not Labour.
It remains to be seen whether Miliband’s fortunes will rise off the back of this speech. It was the one he should have delivered at Party Conference. He performed better than his competitors at the CBI Conference on Monday but the press didn’t report that. They save their column inches for Miliband’s failures, not successes. If that doesn’t change, Labour will have a hard time convincing the public they have the right man for the job of leading the country. However, if he keeps it up, Miliband could win over the public in the crucial six months running up to May.
There are reasons for optimism. The Conservatives’ polling figures have not benefitted from economic growth to the extent they might have expected. The Lib Dems have lost voters on the left, and amongst the young – a group Labour is targeting on jobs and housing. UKIP will damage the Conservatives more than Labour.
Of course, we haven’t mentioned Scotland. That’s Miliband’s real challenge. Labour cannot lose support in their heartland if they want to win in Westminster. On that point, we await the SNP Conference that starts tomorrow. That Conference will usher in a new leader on the left, the combative Nicola Sturgeon. Miliband, who pledged today to “fight for a fairer, more just, more equal Britain”, now has a real battle on his hands.