George Eustice: Miliband may have shot his bolt

Ed Miliband squandered the first year of his leadership and is now in trouble.

George Eustice: Miliband may have shot his bolt
George Eustice: Miliband may have shot his bolt

His latest message - that he would make deep cuts if elected but opposes cuts now - was too complicated and backfired.

The pre-briefing created a strong expectation that this was a major repositioning, but his speech was then a damp squib and he toured the TV studios pouring cold water on his own story.

He is learning the hard way that opposition is not easy. If you don't announce policies early, you are accused of not having a plan. If you do announce policies early, they backfire or become out of date.

If you oppose the Government, you are opportunistic.

When you support the Government, your own MPs grumble. If you do start to get traction, the Government will make the idea its own. If you suffer a wobble in the polls, your own side attacks you.

The most important thing any party that has lost an election must do is reconcile itself with the electorate and show that it has learned from its mistakes. But Labour's body language denotes a petulant rejection of the decision voters took. Next, you need absolute clarity and consistency about your message, starting with a clear mission, a consistent stance towards your opponents and then the themes you are going to prioritise to give definition to your message. But Miliband is repeatedly sending out mixed messages. Does he now support government cuts or not? No-one knows.

In opposition, what you say about yourself matters far more than what you say about the Government.

To square the circle when it comes to policy, you need a credible policy process that enables you to show a direction of travel and float interesting ideas while reserving your final manifesto position. Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and David Cameron all managed this. Miliband announced policy reviews more than a year ago but they have sunk without trace.

The Conservatives eventually learned that you can only have a new leader once and public perceptions are forged in the first three months. It might already be too late for Miliband to turn things around.

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

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