Miliband can't shift 'opportunistic' tag

Conference season is a time when political parties find themselves plagued by the questions that won't go away. The two questions confronting Ed Miliband this week were 'are you up to the job?' and 'what would Labour do?'

George Eustice: 'The two questions confronting Ed Miliband this week were "are you up to the job?" and "what would Labour do"'
George Eustice: 'The two questions confronting Ed Miliband this week were "are you up to the job?" and "what would Labour do"'

Opposition is never easy. It is harder to get media coverage. Announce policies too soon and the good ones get stolen, while the bad ones get derided. Any spending plans can look outdated by the time of an election. However, if you have no plans of your own and focus solely on attacking the Government, you look like an opportunistic opposition leader rather than a prime minister in waiting. That has been Miliband's fate.

Much has been written about all the polling showing that people don't warm to Miliband and cannot see him as prime minister. Some have suggested that he needs style consultants or speech training but, more often than not, perceptions about politicians are rooted in more fundamental problems that the public intuitively detects. These doubts can be expressed in superficial terms of style but that is usually the symptom rather than the cause.

The first step in the transition from opposition to government is reconciliation with the electorate. Tony Blair showed he understood why old Labour had failed and David Cameron understood where the Tories went wrong in the 90s. Miliband has yet to make that reconciliation and the body language of Ed Balls is hostile to voters who opted for change in 2010.

The next step is to identify the agenda needed to address the challenges that will come beyond the Government of the day and to be seen to mould this into a flexible set of policy propositions that can be firmed up nearer an election. Some elements will recognise and build on what an existing Government got right while others will strike a new direction. Labour's policy development floundered for the first two years. Jon Cruddas is more astute than most Labour MPs but there is still no sign of a credible alternative agenda emerging, so Miliband is condemned to look like an opportunistic opposition leader.

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

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