Taking Labour from opposition to government in one five year term was always going to be a challenge, and unfortunately for Labour Ed Miliband’s message failed to make a big impact and take Labour to victory. The party ended up with less seats than it had before going into the general election, but will history be kinder to Ed Miliband, the man who could have been Prime Minister?
Shift to the left
Under Ed Miliband Labour shifted away from the centre and the New Labour message of aspiration. The term ‘Red Ed’ was arguably a bit extreme, but Mr Miliband did shift the party further to the left what with proposing the mansion tax, the freeze in energy costs and the 50p tax rate.
However, Ed Miliband’s shift to the left could be a catalyst to spur on a Labour victory in 2020. The new leadership race has resulted in most candidates saying that a move to the centre is what Labour should do to win. The thinking goes that Labour only wins when it positions itself in the centre, as was the case under the leadership of Tony Blair. Miliband’s shift to the left is resulting in a movement towards the centre, something which could result in a Labour 2020 win. If this is the case history might see Miliband as the catalyst for this shift. Furthermore, others will respect him for sticking to his principles on the left, even if it led him to defeat.
Under Ed Miliband Labour lost 40 of its 41 seats north of the border, contributing to Labour ending up with less seats than it started with. If Labour had retained its seats in Scotland then the party would have improved upon its 2010 performance (UK-wide), something which would have put the party in a good position for 2020. Instead the party lost out to the SNP. Ed Miliband will be remembered as the leader who presided over the loss of Scotland.
Then again the seeds for Labour’s fall in Scotland were planted some time ago and with the referendum resulting in the surge in SNP support it is hard to lay all the blame with Miliband. Furthermore, Labour’s Scottish leader, Jim Murphy, took some of the blame and recently resigned.
Ed Miliband is not to blame for Scottish Labour’s collapse, but he will be remembered as the leader who presided over Scottish Labour’s parliamentary destruction.
As already discussed, under Ed Miliband Labour went backwards in terms of seats - going from 258 to 232. For that he will be remembered unkindly by many in Labour, but under him the party did make net gains from the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. However, as the Conservatives made considerable gains from Nick Clegg’s party many will question why the Miliband leadership failed the persuade more ex-Liberal Democrats to support Labour.
On the other hand, under Ed Miliband the number of people voting Labour from 2010 was up in 2015. Furthermore, Labour’s vote share was up 1.5% points - that’s not a lot, but higher that the Conservatives' increase of 0.8% points. True, Labour lost seats, but their vote share did go up under Ed Miliband. So whilst in seats the party fell backwards it made a marginal improvement in terms of votes.
Ed Miliband’s popularity started from a low base as his approval ratings consistently ranked behind David Cameron’s. This may encourage Labour party members to pick a new leader that has more style and popular appeal. However, Ed Miliband’s popularity grew in the later weeks in the campaign, albeit from a very low base. He had a fan club: the Milifandom, as well as a short film about him: Milibae the movie. Nonetheless, he will be remembered as generally unappealing to the majority of the electorate.
He took Labour to the left, but that will likely result in a shift to the centre. He presided over seat losses and the collapse in Scotland, but he is not entirely to blame for all that. Many will also regard him as the ‘wrong Miliband’, with some asking the question: what if David had been elected instead? Would Labour now be back in government or was Labour doomed to lose the election either way?
On the whole, Ed Miliband will be remembered as someone who was seen as never quite Prime Ministerial enough, but as someone who could have been Prime Minister if the polls had been correct.
But there’s one thing that I reckon stands out, something not mentioned: he reformed the way Labour leaders are elected. He changed it from an electoral college system to one of one-member-one-vote, meaning that his successor will be chosen under a much fairer system.
He never became Prime Minister, but Ed Miliband did make a difference.