Faced with characteristically impatient questioning by John Humphrys this morning, David Miliband said of his brother Ed: “I am happy to say he is the best man to lead Labour into the next election.” The comments, on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, may have been forced by Humphrys’s grilling. But it appears that despite the media speculation about Ed’s performance in recent months, David was right when he added that Ed “will lead Labour into the next election.” That message is echoed by some—limited but illuminating—exclusive private polling among Labour MPs by Prospect.
The only practical threat to Ed’s leadership would be if Labour MPs begin to worry enough about losing their seats at the next general election to move against their leader. We know from his decision to stand against his elder brother that Ed is deceptively ruthless and unlikely to stand down voluntarily. And we know that historically, the Labour party fails to oust its leaders in the brutal way the Conservatives and, lately, the Liberal Democrats do. Instead, Labour takes a curiously sentimental attitude towards under-performing leaders.
In judging Ed’s survivability, then, it is certainly necessary, if not wholly sufficient, to test the temperature of the parliamentary party.
Labour MPs make up one third of the electoral college that decides the Labour leadership, alongside party members and the trade unions. In the final round of the contest in 2010, Ed Miliband famously only won the union section of the college, gaining 59.802 per cent to David’s 40.02 per cent. The elder brother won 54.405 per cent of Labour members’ votes, and 53.436 per cent of the MPs’ votes. Ed received 45.594 per cent of the members’ votes and 46.566 per cent of the MPs’ votes. This meant that overall, 140 Labour MPs ended up voting for David and 122 ended up voting for Ed.