Is Ed Miliband ready to be Prime Minister? His personal poll ratings suggest not and many in his party remain sceptical. But Labour remains toe-to-toe with the Conservatives in the polls, making a Miliband premiership a real possibility after 7 May.
The FT’s George Parker and Jim Pickard have interviewed the Labour leader (£) today to find out why Miliband is still confident he can lead the country, despite the negativity surrounding his leadership. One of the fascinating nuggets in the piece is the claim that two of the most influential figures in New Labour plotted to remove him as leader:
‘Miliband’s Labour critics do not share his confidence. So much so that, last autumn, party grandees gauged whether they could stage a coup by toppling the leader and installing the popular former Labour home secretary Alan Johnson in his place. Miliband denied talk of a coup last November as “nonsense”.
‘But the FT has learnt that two Labour grandees — Lord Mandelson, the former business secretary, and Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s former press chief — took soundings from Johnson to see whether he was prepared to take over. “Alan gave an emphatic No,” says one Labour MP. Another senior party figure claimed that at least 40 MPs supported the abortive coup — others claim far more. Johnson, a former postman, has discovered a new and less stressful life as an author.
Although this plot is FT’s claim, no denial has been issued so far by Mandelson or Campbell. If this duo did tap up Johnson to take over — and the number of MPs ready to back them — it shows how deep the unrest goes within the Labour party. Miliband is clearly on a short leash from his party: if this is how they treat him when the party is within touching distance of No.10, their patience will run out as soon as the moment passes.
The main impression from Parker and Pickard is that Miliband has an incredible level of self-confidence, arguably to the same extent as the current Tory leadership. Sadiq Khan is quoted saying this isn’t arrogance, it’s ‘confidence in the decency of the British people’. Regardless of how the outside world see Ed Miliband, those around him remain staunchly confident their man will deliver in the end — even if the rest of the party aren’t so sure.
UPDATE: The FT reports here that Mandelson and Campbell have confirmed these conversations took place but deny they were scheming against Miliband.