Paul Linford: For Labour not to address the leadership issue would amount to a betrayal of its values

The Journal's former political editor says that logic should guide Labour to a clear conclusion about Ed Miliband - he must go

Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire Labour leader Ed Miliband
Labour leader Ed Miliband

One of the most oft-heard truisms in British politics is that parties do not tend to change their leaders a matter of months before general elections - particularly when they are called the Labour Party.

Before the last election, there were numerous plots hatched to try to force Gordon Brown from office and replace him with either David Miliband or Alan Johnson, and of course they all came to nothing.

Much earlier, in 1983, a group of Labour MPs and union bosses planned to ask Michael Foot to step aside to enable his deputy, Denis Healey, to lead the party into the election to be held later that summer.

As long-time students of North East politics will remember, Mr Foot was saved by Labour’s win at the Darlington by-election – a pyrrhic victory which was swiftly followed by the loss of the seat to the Tories and Labour worst general election result since the 1920s.

So nobody seriously expects things to be any different this time round, even though current party leader Ed Miliband’s approval rating of minus 44 is even worse than poor old Mr Foot’s at the same stage of the electoral cycle.

Once again, it is Mr Johnson who is being touted as the alternative leader, and once again, the postman-over-the-water as one columnist aptly described him, is having none of it.

Meanwhile shadow health secretary Andy Burnham and shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper, likely to be the protagonists in any post-Miliband leadership contest, have been forced to deny reports of a non-aggression pact.

And, just as it appeared that the moment of maximum danger had passed, an Ipsos-Mori poll this week gave the Tories a three-point lead, with Mr Miliband’s Labour polling a dismal 29%.

To his credit, the Labour leader’s response was to come out fighting in a speech on Thursday which almost sought to make a virtue of the amount of flak that has been thrown in his direction over recent weeks.

“I am willing to put up with whatever is thrown at me, in order to fight for you,” he told an audience in London.

It was, of course, a speech that started this crisis – his poorly-received one at the Labour conference in Manchester when he forgot to mention the deficit and spoke somewhat cringingly of his encounters with an IT man from Kentish Town called Gareth.

But will a speech - even one which appears to have raised morale among the party’s demoralised supporters – be enough to end it? It seems unlikely.

Nick Ansell/PA Wire Labour leader Ed Miliband
Labour leader Ed Miliband
 

The essence of the case for a change in the Labour leadership even at this late stage is that the public has made up its mind about Ed Miliband and is not now likely to unmake it in the run-up to polling day.

And although there is much to admire about Mr Miliband’s values and his evident determination to be judged on those, rather than his personality, I’m afraid I find this a rather compelling argument.

It is too easy to say the election should be about issues such as whether we will still have a National Health Service after another five years of Tory-led government than about whether Ed Miliband can eat a bacon sarnie without looking like a plonker.

The truth is, such things do matter in the quasi-presidential system of politics we seem to have moved towards in this country, and as I said in my column following the Labour conference speech, the man is currently obscuring the message.

If, as the opinion polls seem to suggest, the public is by and large sympathetic to Labour policies, but reluctant to vote for the party because they don’t like its leader, then the way forward for the party ought to be clear.

Indeed, not to address the leadership issue when it seems likely to result in the election of another right-wing government would amount to a betrayal of its own values.

If Mr Johnson still won’t play ball, then Mr Burnham – a man who speaks the language of ordinary voters and who has distinguished himself as a campaigner for the Hillsborough victims - ought at least to be worthy of consideration.

History, of course, says it will never happen. Political logic, though, suggests it must.

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