David Maddox: Loneliness of long-suffering leader

Labour leader Ed Miliband. Picture: PA
Labour leader Ed Miliband. Picture: PA
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THERE are two contradictory images of Ed Miliband which are presented by his enemies. One is the weak leader, manipulated by union barons and unable to control his party.

The second is the self-interested politician so ruthless and hard-nosed that he was willing to commit political fratricide to get the top job.

It would seem both images cannot be true, yet in the ongoing fiasco over the Falkirk candidate selection, Miliband has managed to present both faces to the public and his own party.

Calling the police on Len McCluskey and the Unite union over the alleged attempt to influence the selection was certainly the ruthless Ed, especially as it was McCluskey & Co who gave him the party leadership against the majority of ordinary members and MPs.

But then, saying he did not want to break the link with the unions and announcing some minor cap on funding for candidate selections was hardly a picture of a strong man exerting his will, and was mocked again as weak.

And that “weak response” over the weekend will ensure that the outright civil war in Labour, which is now totally in the open, will play out again this week while David Cameron and the Tories will not hesitate to mention it at every opportunity.

The problem for Ed Miliband is that he cannot play both sides in his party. With Unite now effectively running some Labour MPs with its own manifesto and threatening to withdraw general support for the party in favour of targeted backing for its own MPs and candidates, it has become somewhat like the cuckoo in the Labour nest.

Faced with this threat, Mr Miliband’s best hope is with the Blairites led by Jim Murphy, Lord Reid and others. Yet they are the ones he helped to defeat and stop in the leadership election by beating the Blairite candidate, his brother David. In Labour feuds, forgiveness is rarely offered and individuals have elephantine memories over the merest slights.

Mr Miliband owes his election as leader to the union barons and fixers. But now they are the enemy trying to effectively neutralise him. They also hold the purse strings, since the days of big private donations seem to be a thing of Labour’s past.

So as Mr Miliband faces another very difficult week with the poll lead over the Tories slipping from 13 points to six, he is a very lonely man at the top of his party.

Yet there may be one crumb of comfort. In January, a Populus poll showed that 69 per cent of voters thought Labour’s link with the unions was positive.

This included more than half of Tory voters. It suggests that the Tory demonisation of unions of the 1980s, which they are heartily reviving now, does not have its old traction.

So, maybe if Ed Miliband can hang on as leader until May 2015, then the voters won’t mind whether Unite and Len McCluskey are running his party or not.