LEADERS may be their parties’ weakest link, but should still be at the helm come the 2015 general election, writes David Maddox
WITH less than two years to go before the 2015 UK general election, conferences this year should be the launch pad for what parties call “the long campaign”. But as we enter the conference season, the leaders of the three main UK parties appear to be more embroiled in a political version of the Weakest Link, with the question being which one is more damaging to his party.
Rather than going into the crucial period on the crest of a wave, Tory Prime Minister David Cameron, his Lib Dem deputy Nick Clegg and Labour leader Ed Miliband are all struggling to keep their heads above water as internal party problems threaten to drag them under.
For a man whose party regularly polls fourth in single figures behind Ukip in England and the SNP in Scotland, Clegg might be in the best position of the three as he prepares for his conference in Glasgow next week. However, he still faces motions about the party’s failure to abolish tuition fees and instead treble them south of the Border. Also, the retrenchment strategy of trying to hold on to their seats might come undone if more MPs, like Malcolm Bruce and Sarah Teather, do not stand again. The lesson of 2010 for the Lib Dems was that they lost seats where the incumbent departed.
Miliband is facing his first big speech this week, at the TUC conference in Bournemouth, and then has to do it all over again in a fortnight in Brighton in front of his party. He is perhaps in the worst position of all. He has apparently lost control of his party and its funding, as the Falkirk fiasco appears to underline, and is stuck between the Blairites, who hate him for defeating his brother David for the leadership, and the unions, who elected him but now hate him for trying to reform the party.
Miliband has a Treasury team, led by Ed Balls, that appears to have its own policies and a defence team, led by Jim Murphy, that appears to disagree with him over Syria and wants the possibility of military action. Even the Syrian vote “victory” was a sign of weakness. It seemed that Miliband wanted to back Cameron over military action, but was forced to backtrack at the 11th hour because he was facing mass resignations from his front-bench.
But following Miliband, in Manchester we will see a Prime Minister, David Cameron, who also has lost control of his party and appears to be utterly disconnected from it. He heads a government that no longer controls its foreign policy, thanks to Tory back-bench rebels who blocked action in Syria and had already forced him to agree to a referendum on European Union membership. His decision to force through gay marriage has seen thousands of members leave.
None of the three leaders can pretend to have much authority in his party. But, ironically, because of the election cycle and lack of time to make a change at the top, they will be the three figures the public will be asked ask to choose from in the televised leaders’ debate at the next election.