Tom Peterkin: Beckett’s report too kind to Ed Miliband

Margaret Beckett. Picture: PA
Margaret Beckett. Picture: PA
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Students of the art of stating the bleeding obvious could do worse than read Margaret Beckett’s analysis of Labour’s abject failure at last year’s general election.

Among its conclusions was that the fear of Ed Miliband being propped up by the SNP swayed voters away from Labour – an observation that, while true, offers little in the way of original insight.

Beckett’s report also acknowledged that polls consistently put David Cameron above Ed Miliband when it came to rating the two men as Prime Minister material. You don’t say?

What was less obvious, however, was Beckett’s reluctance to put any blame for this on Miliband himself.

According to Beckett, Miliband was the victim of a “ferocious attack from partisan sections of our media”. She also claimed he performed well during the campaign, praising speeches he made. In the end, she concluded that a Labour victory was “unachievable after the fallout of the Scottish referendum, regardless of leader and strategy”.

In some ways her loyalty to her erstwhile leader is quite touching. It is also, however, hideously naive.

Surely, Labour’s poor election was down to a failure of leadership. These things almost always are. When faced with difficult circumstances, the need for strong leadership is great.

For too many voters, Miliband just did not cut it. No-one would dispute that he worked exceptionally hard and came across as a decent, earnest and committed politician in what must have been an exceptionally challenging campaign.

But the cruel truth of Labour’s 2015 campaign is that it was dogged by Miliband’s failure to mention the deficit in his speech to conference a few months before and his subsequent inability to persuade the electorate that Labour could be trusted with the economy.

As minutiae of the campaign fade from the memory, the “Ed Stone” will still loom large in the mind as an excruciating symbol that somehow summed up Miliband’s unfortunate leadership and the quality of the advice he was receiving from strategists whom he appointed.

The problem that Labour faces now is that the fallout of the defeat under Miliband’s command is certain to linger for years to come.

Tony Blair’s old henchman Alistair Campbell is one who believes that Labour’s failure to organise an orderly succession once his old boss had departed is to blame for the party’s uncertain future.

Quite how this would have been achieved is open to question given the paucity of credible candidates to carry the New Labour torch after Gordon Brown left Downing Street.

A host of experienced Labour politicians – John Reid, Alan Johnson and Alistair Darling among them – were unavailable for one reason or another.

This problem was exacerbated when Labour chose “the wrong” Miliband. Finally, the Miliband who did become Opposition Leader opened up the method of selecting his successor. It was a reform made with the best of intentions, but it is a legacy with potentially disastrous consequences.

Thanks also to the MPs, who decided that it was a good idea to nominate Jeremy Corbyn, and landed the party with a leader who has an unprecedented mandate in terms of his extended party but no hope of commanding a Commons majority.