Miliband to face questions over his leadership at Labour Party conference

Labour leader faces party criticism for failing to convince Britons he could be prime minister

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 September, 2013, 4:07am


Ed Miliband, the leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party, appeared to have Prime Minister David Cameron on the ropes.

Cameron had just lost a vote in Parliament on a non-binding motion to consider military action in Syria over chemical weapons, the first time in at least a century that a prime minister has not won parliamentary support for war.

But Miliband, whose own position on the issue kept shifting, did not seize the moment.

He neither spoke convincingly to the nation about the nature of its alliances, its foreign policy or its values, nor did he attack Cameron effectively for mismanaging the entire issue.

After three years as Labour leader, Miliband, 43, has not convinced the British public he is prime ministerial material.

And questions about his leadership will hang over his party's annual conference, which begins tomorrow.

In the words of The Guardian's Michael White, Miliband, while having good instincts, "flickers rather than shines".

John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University in Glasgow, said more bluntly that polling shows "Miliband is clearly not a help to his party and he may well be a hindrance".

The coalition government of the Conservative Cameron and Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg is unpopular, Curtice said, but there are doubts among voters about whether Miliband believes in anything very strongly.

"People are unclear what he stands for," Curtice said. "It's not just that he's seen as geeky or intellectual. He hasn't managed to show people that he has a vision and a sense of direction. There's a lack of definition."

Miliband became Labour leader three years ago after an election defeat that ended 13 years of Labour government.

"He became leader a few months after his party was rejected comprehensively," said political analyst Peter Kellner. "He was a cabinet minister and close to Gordon Brown, so he was implicated in the wider reputation of a government that failed. Any new Labour leader would have trouble combating that."

Miliband did not support Britain's involvement in the Iraq war, which so badly damaged Tony Blair, and he boldly opposed Rupert Murdoch's powerful media empire in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal.

But part of his problem stems from his past as a bright young aide and then minister in Labour governments, and part comes from the residue of his extraordinary decision to run for the leadership against his older brother, David Miliband, who was a more senior figure, having been foreign secretary.

The younger Miliband won narrowly with the help of trade union votes. David Miliband had come out ahead among Labour lawmakers and party members.

Since then, Ed Miliband has struggled to lose both the taint of fratricide and the stain of being beholden to trade union bosses, who are not the most popular figures in Britain.

David Miliband finally quit his own seat in Parliament and left the country, recently beginning a new job in New York as the head of the International Rescue Committee, a non-governmental organisation aiding refugees.