Friday 19 June 2015

The Strategic Uselessness of Miliband

Earlier in the week Mr Quango recounted his surprise at Miliband's ultimate failure to cross the line, given the long list of advantages he enjoyed.  As Bill said, BE and I were less surprised - see this from 2013, for example; and by around February (2015) as you may have gathered, this dyed-in-the-wool partisan wicked-Tory had become really quite optimistic.

Partly this was because the hard painstaking slog in my local marginal was clearly beginning to pay off for the MP and his battalion of foot-sloggers.  Much as one prefers wars of maneouvre over wars of attrition, the bold decisive stroke over the hard grind - sometimes only the long slog will do the trick.  Hey diddle diddle, straight up the middle, as the US Marines are wont to say.

Partly it was what I could see of the Crosby-Osborne strategy at work, which was clearly achieving the modern goal of getting inside the other guys' decision-loop (the Northern Powerhouse initiative being a case in point).

But it was also built on a foundation of confidence that Miliband was a strategic loser - which goes beyond his splendidly 'un-Prime-Ministerial' demeanour (Kinnock syndrome) and his proclivity for periodic gaffes.  I shall explain.

From his election as leader right up until election day, Mili was widely reported to exude a calm, other-worldy certainty of 2015 triumph.  UK electoral history was always broadly against him, as everyone knew: the economy was more-or-less bound to recover over a five-year period; and few losing parties have ever turned things around in one cycle.  And yet he was calm and certain.

This is crazy, lazy stuff, at once messianic and (whenever any modern politico-atheist reckons history is on his side) Marxist - and we know where he got that from.  The practical outworking of this heartwarming optimistic fatalism in terms of his electoral thinking was the famous '35 per cent' strategy, on which Mr Google will furnish you a heap of references, many of them derisive, many of those from the Labour camp itself.

Now of course it might indeed have been possible (just about) to get a Labour majority with 35% of the popular vote: so far, so good, but that's not the point.  I tend to set these things in the military idiom, the relevant slogan being:  if you want to hold a river, you must hold both banks.  In any walk of life, if you want to stand still, you must advance.  In Mili's case: if you want to scrape home with 35%, you must be targetting 40.   If you target 35 (or, still worse, if you think 35 is yours for the taking), you will get ... the fruits of your laziness.

But this isn't just a matter of degree: targetting 40% doesn't just cost you 40/35 times as much campaign cash + effort over a 35% goal.  It's not just laziness that a lame target engenders; nor is it just a matter of diminishing returns, although that's a factor too.  In order to target 40% realistically, the policies you must run with will be utterly different to what you'll be satisfied with for a 35% campaign.  For 40, you really need to push out beyond your true comfort zone.  But Mili ... Mili was wedded to a very comfortable zone indeed, a zone of zen.

As the months passed I became ever more convinced - from both media reports and his public demeanour - that he was possessed of a belief in historical inevitability; and that this would fatally undermine his commitment to driving forward all the necessary hard thinking and hard work.   But since there was nothing historically compelling about this particular belief*, and additionally because God helps those who help themselves (which was the Tories how were operating, at both local and strategic levels), I became increasingly sanguine about the whole affair.

* In truth, during the period May 2010 - May 2015 the only person entitled to believe in 'inevitable' was George Osborne, as regards the economy more-or-less righting itself in that timeframe.


Lord T said...

I thought he was going to win. Not because he was any good but purely because Cameron is such a useless twat who couldn't make headway even against a total loser like Milliband and UKIP were leeching votes away.

Didn't go the way I wanted it but what a relief it didn't go the way I thought it would.

MySecondPostTodayName said...

Good synopsis lord T.

Roderick said...

Just what we needed - another examination of the Miliband entrails.

Blue Eyes said...

EdM's "problem" was, in my humble view, in two parts. First, he thought that he was much cleverer than Cameron. Second, he thought that a cleverer leader ought to win.

He also assumed that everyone in the country is as interested in politics as he is. Thus, he announced complex poleconimic ideas once, then left them alone. For example, pre-distribution: one speech, everyone gets it, move on. Those of us who understood what he was getting at either said yay or boo, and the rest of the country (80%? 90%) thought "weird".

When you choose between an Android and an Apple, you don't get bogged down in tech specs and marginal advantages/disadvantages; you choose which seems right for you. Nobody, literally nobody, thought of Ed Miliband as right for PM.

Bill Quango MP said...

It was the Lib Dems that foxed us. Solid yellow seats for 20 years or more going blue. 15,000 majorities being overturned.

Yeovil, the very centre of Liberal democrat power since Paddy Ashdown lost their 13,000 liberal majority.

The Tory boy won by 6,000. That's a 19,000 swing from yellow to blue.
AND the Tories had to contend with almost 10% of the vote going to UKIP down there.

I am still stunned by the success.

A good piece Nick. Why Miliband lost, and more importantly, why the Tories won.

As General Pickett replied, years and years after he led a final fateful and doomed charge against the Yankees, when asked why the Confederates lost..

"I always thought the Yankees had something to with it."

Scan said...

Irony lost on the Neo Labour types (as it always is) is that they constantly crow that Etonians think they're entitled to be PM, but I've never seen anyone ooze entitlement more than Miliband did.

Electro-Kevin said...

1.5 trillion debt and immigration more out of control than ever...

Miliband really isn't the problem here.

MyThirdPostInADayName!!!! said...

@EK - again, good points, which brings me to an obvious problem with this format:

C@W should really be a forum rather than a blog post.
By all means start conversations/threads with a blog post, but a longer, clearer more structured discussion afterwards would be more valuable, I feel.

Anyone second?

SimonF said...

Ref that 35% strategy, they should have employed a Yes, Ptime Minister fan. There's a point in on story where Sir H points out to Hacker "forget the party base, they'll vote for you anyway".

James Higham said...

The bacon butties did for him.

Budgie said...

Certainly Cameron and Osborne didn't win it. There were two main factors: the overwhelming polling gains by the SNP in Scotland before the election demoralised Labour; and the halving of the oil price boosted both the economy and the feel-good factor.

There were of course many other reasons: from Miliband's bacon butty to the (much worse for democracy) conscious labeling of UKIP as racist (it isn't) by the establishment.