It’s silly season against Ed Miliband writes Lee Brown

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Polling evidence does not support the idea that Ed’s time is up.

Silly season is normally reserved for the summer. But this year we have also had the Winter version with a torrent of newspaper articles making it clear it that their authors believe that Ed Miliband’s time is up.

Pages have been filled undermining Ed, mainly from people in the right-wing media who never wanted him to win in the first place. Predictably they were then joined by some of the usual suspects in our own Party who don’t want to accept that it is time to move on from New Labour after it lost 5m votes by 2010, with 4m lost under Blair.

The particular excuse for this anti-Ed outpouring was a few polls where the Tories narrowed Labour’s year long poll lead and where for a few days they even briefly overtook Labour. Yet the graph below shows something very clear. The Tory boost came around the time of Cameron’s meaningless veto on a European treaty and was mainly due to a decline in the support for “others” (including UKIP). Already as Europe moves back down people’s list of priorities Labour’s lead seems to be opening up again.

Was this just a storm in a teacup that can just be ignored? No, because certain things said over the past weeks can’t be unchallenged. If left to settle they’ll become received wisdom in the right-wing media’s campaign to replace Labour’s leader with someone more loyal to New Labour’s heritage.

One thing needs stating. Ed Miliband has not been a disaster for Labour. Local election results and polls show this very clearly. Rather, under his leadership Labour has taken some big steps forward from the nadir experienced in last 5 years of New Labour. A significant chunk of the lost support has been regained.

In 2011 the average support Labour received in Yougov’s daily opinion poll was 42%. Contrasting this with previous elections and polling is illustrative.

In general elections, Labour achieved a disastrous 29% share of the vote in 2010 and in 2005 Labour got just 35%. Against this Ed’s average of 42% is clearly a big step forward. It even compares favourably with early New Labour general election results of 40.7% in 2001. Even in 1997 it was 43% – only just higher than Ed Milibands average. Labour’s European election performances under New Labour were even worse. In 2009 Labour got 16%; in 2005 it got 22.6%. Again against this 42% is a serious improvement.

Obviously this is comparing polls with real life elections and there are severe limitations in doing this. But restating these abysmal election results does serve to highlight just how much support Labour had lost and the low point that Ed Miliband is trying to lead the party from.

Comparing real election results is obviously a better comparison. Yet a similar picture emerges when you contrast the only national election Ed Miliband has overseen against similar previous elections.

The 37% received in May 2011 local elections was the highest level achieved by Labour in any local council elections since 1996 (when a general election is not held on the same day (which boosts Labour’s vote).

This 37% was a huge improvement on the 22% Labour received in 2009, the previous set of local elections where no general election was held. It was significantly higher than Labour’s local council elections results since 2000 where it has received in order: 30% (2000), 33% (2002), 30% (2003), 26% (2004), 26% (2006), 26% (2007), and 24% (2008).

The average of 42% can be compared another way, against previous sets of opinion polls. Comparing against previous Yougov polls since 2002 (as far back as their regular monthy polling goes) shows there are only three occasions when any single Yougov poll placed Labour higher than Ed Milibands 2011 average of 42%. One was in April 2002 under Tony Blair (when it scored 44%) and the other two under Gordon Brown in September 2007 (43% and 44%).

Of course Yougov wasn’t polling in the mid 1990s when Labour was flying high in the polls. But again that just serves to underline how much support Labour lost in subsequent years and the very damage that Ed Miliband is trying to repair.

None of this is to say Labour doesn’t need to continue increasing its support over the coming year. But the above figures show that steps forward have been made in repairing the damage caused by New Labour. This evidence seems to be being deliberately underplayed to suit more right-wing political agendas.