George Eustice: Labour message is not being heard

The thing about the prevailing political media narrative is that it changes like the weather - rather akin to a weather vane creaking into a new direction. First there is one minor event, then an apparent pattern of events, then, after a stampede from the media herd, a stark problem becomes apparent that everyone says should have been obvious all along.

George Eustice: Labour not being heard
George Eustice: Labour not being heard

Last week's election results showed Ed Miliband is running into trouble. Despite starting from a very low base, Labour suffered a reverse in Scotland, failed to break through in the South and was behind the Conservatives on national share of the vote. It was a clear signal that the scattergun approach, which has defined Labour over the past 12 months, has failed to move the public and a pattern is starting to develop.

Opposition is not easy. Immediately after an election defeat you are under pressure from your most loyal supporters to retreat into the party's comfort zone. The temptation to jump on every passing story and oppose everything the Government does is high. If you come up with policies too soon, they can backfire and be out of date by the next election. But if you have nothing positive to say about your own agenda, you lose the respect of the public.

First impressions last, so if you get it wrong from the start, it is not easy to recover. When David Cameron became leader of the Conservative Party we had a packed programme to define a new Conservative agenda within his first three months. Miliband has spent far too much time making opportunistic attacks on the Government and not enough time working out what the Labour Party stands for. He should have used his first months to reinvent Labour and demonstrate that it had learned from its mistakes.

In the short term, tribal opposition can appear to work. Miliband has been shielded from scrutiny by the fact that spending cuts dominated the news agenda in the early part of his leadership. But in the long run, until a party reconciles itself with the reasons it lost power, in cannot earn the right to be heard again.

George Eustice is Conservative MP for Camborne and Redruth and a former press secretary to David Cameron

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