That Ed Miliband is even having to state that he wants to carry on as Labour leader if he loses the general election when his party is ahead in the polls shows what a mess the operation around him is.
There are a number of Shadow Cabinet members who seem more interested in what happens after the 2015 election than in their party’s chances in that election. Perhaps this is because they have decided that though their party is ahead now, voters will panic about Miliband as they start to try imagining him as Prime Minister. Better to get your off-the-record briefings in now, and not make too much of an effort batting for this guy when you think you’re doomed.
The problem is, of course, that this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you assume your leader is doomed, brief that he’s ‘weird’, start plotting about who will lead the party after the 2015 election, and neglect your brief in the Shadow Cabinet, then you’re hardly helping your party hold on to that poll lead. Labour backbenchers are frustrated with this unrest, and the apparent lack of effort in some quarters. Some around Miliband are starting to squint suspiciously at figures who should be key in the Shadow Cabinet such as Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham. Cooper in particular is suspected of taking more than a passing interest in the future of the party, and less of interest in the Home Office brief. This is not entirely fair: the leak to the Mail on Sunday at the weekend showed that the party has decided to neutralise its immigration policy, which scarcely leaves this shadow minister with much room to do interesting things, other than chase Theresa May around Westminster.
The timing for Labour of all this unrest is dreadful and a reversal of the Tory party’s fortunes. The Conservatives have spent the past few years fighting, only to relax and (largely) unite in the run-up to the election. The Cabinet – save some spectacular bust-ups such as Michael Gove vs Theresa May – is not the main source of poison. Conversely, the Shadow Cabinet is the main source of infighting and venomous briefing, while Miliband’s backbenchers tend – with the exception of a few outspoken types – to feel their leader has invested so much in them that they should stick by him. The question is what to do about the poisonous shadow cabinet. There is an expectation that the Labour leader will carry out a reshuffle after David Cameron has done his, but this fish seems to be rotting from the very top of its head. Removing very senior Shadow Cabinet members could cause more trouble for Miliband than he thinks it is worth. Which may mean he has to work out how to put up with the poison, rather than removing it.