The dissection of Labour’s election defeat continues with a very thorough series of pieces in today’s Times by Rachel Sylvester and Michael Savage. Describing Ed Miliband’s tenure as leader as a ‘five-year suicide note’, the articles look at the countless errors of judgment and mistakes made by both Ed Miliband and those around him over the last five years. Here are five interesting things we’ve found out.
1. Philip Gould warned Miliband not to turn away from New Labour
New Labour’s renowned strategist and pollster Philip Gould warned Team Miliband early on that they were defending the wrong points of the last Labour government, including the economy:
‘Philip Gould was close to death and painfully weak with cancer but his political instincts were as strong as ever. Labour’s legendary strategist could not understand why Ed Miliband was turning his back on his party’s most popular achievements in power while failing to admit to what voters saw as mistakes. “I agree we concede and move on,” he told the leader’s pollster, James Morris, when he visited him at his home overlooking Regent’s Park in early 2011, “but this seems to be conceding on everything except the economy and I would do the opposite.”’
2. A photoshoot was cancelled in case voters thought Brighton Pavilion was a mosque
The paranoia around Miliband reached hysterical levels when a photo shoot in Brighton was called off because his team were worried voters might think it was a mosque:
‘There was an at times almost comical neurosis about the issue: in a moment straight out of The Thick of It, a planned photo call with the leader in front of the Brighton Pavilion was dropped because an aide feared voters might think it was a mosque.’
There was no reason given as to why being photographed in front of a mosque would be a bad thing. Incidentally, I joined Miliband on a trip to Brighton during the last few days of the campaign and spent a lot of the day waiting on the campaign bus beside the seaside. There are certainly gaps in the day when humming and haring over a photoshoot could have taken place behind closed doors.
3. Miliband was never sure of his position on spending
Throughout the piece, the 40-odd advisers who have spoken to the Times all point towards the fatal error that Miliband never clarified his position on spending and whether he should be defending Labour’s record on the economy, or admitting that it spent too much:
‘As early as 2010, Labour’s pollsters sent a memo saying that the party should argue “the deficit is the No 1 challenge facing the country” and back “tough spending cuts”.’
Tony Blair’s former spin doctor Alistair Campbell — who appears to have played a significant role in advising Team Miliband, even if the advice was often ignored — suggested commissioning an independent report to make the case that Labour didn’t spend too much in power:
‘He advised him to commission an independent report into Labour’s past spending plans, overseen by a credible figure such as Jim O’Neill or Lord Browne of Madingley. It would almost certainly have cleared Labour of blame, with a minor dispute around whether the party could have spent less in 2007. The idea was not taken up. According to one insider: “Ed neither confronted nor conceded.” Mr Morris believes this was afatal mistake. “There wasn’t a clean break with the past. As a result, every time David Cameron wheeled out a five-year-old letter from Liam Byrne, it damaged us.”’
Interestingly, Jim O’Neill is now a Treasury minister under George Osborne, focusing on the Northern Powerhouse.
4. Justine Miliband advised against hiring Ed Balls
It’s well known that Ed Balls was not Miliband’s first choice for Chancellor. Patrick Wintour’s insightful profile in The Guardian’s last week pointed out that his brother David rejected three advances to take the job. Now the Times reveals Miliband’s wife Justine was also against giving Balls the shadow Treasury brief:
‘Mr Miliband’s wife, Justine, thought it would be “crazy” to give such a strong-minded rival the job and an aide told the leader that if he appointed Mr Balls it would be “the last decision” he ever took. Having tried — and failed again — to give it to David, Mr Miliband decided he had no alternative.’
5. Peter Mandelson remains omnipresent in Labour
Throughout his leadership, Ed Miliband appears to have been haunted by Peter Mandelson, who was one of the plotters trying to replace him at the end of last year with Alan Johnson:
‘Peter Mandelson used a phone call about Hull to tell Alan Johnson he would support him if he was prepared to replace Ed Miliband. Mr Johnson is a Hull MP, while Lord Mandelson, is high steward of Kingston Upon Hull. Mr Johnson said he was not interested.’
Speaking to the Times, Mandelson is keen to distance himself from Miliband, promoting the idea that it was wrong to move on from New Labour. Mandelson even suggests ‘Labour handed the election to the Conservatives on a plate’:
‘Lord Mandelson said that it was as if all of the advances Labour had made since 1992 “were being flushed away” in the 2015 campaign.’