Opinion polls no encouragement as Labour seeks momentum

Ed Miliband makes right noises in car factory visit but his campaign remains stalled

Labour leader Ed Miliband during a speech at Jaguar Land Rover, Wolverhampton, on Monday, where he sought to lay out Labour’s industrial strategy in advance of the general election in May. Photograph: Rui Vieira/PA Wire

Labour leader Ed Miliband during a speech at Jaguar Land Rover, Wolverhampton, on Monday, where he sought to lay out Labour’s industrial strategy in advance of the general election in May. Photograph: Rui Vieira/PA Wire

 

For decades, the British car industry typified the country’s manufacturing decline, with its falling productivity and endlessly fractious industrial relations. Politicians steered clear of factory gates.

Today, production is back to near-historic highs. Eight out of every 10 cars made are exported. Five million of them have been shipped overseas in the past five years alone.

As a result, politicians are queuing up for photo opportunities, though not without some presentational risk. Last year, prime minister David Cameron looked silly when his speech in a JCB factory was interrupted by an alarm.

Labour leader Ed Miliband yesterday went to Jaguar Land Rover in Wolverhampton, seeking to lay out Labour’s industrial strategy in advance of the general election in May. People walked behind him, seemingly ignoring him.

Few of the policies are new, but repetition is necessary because five years of opinion polling has shown that Labour has failed so far to win voters’ trust that they can run the economy better than the Conservatives.

Pledges

“Too often we’re a country of low skill, low wages, insecure jobs. And that isn’t just bad for working families; it is bad for Britain too. When families don’t have money to spend, it holds back our economy. When there is so much insecurity, working families and businesses can’t plan for the long term,” said Miliband.

Labour is struggling to understand why it is in difficulties. The party accepts that British economic figures have improved, but living standards for most workers are still significantly less secure. Again and again, Miliband has anticipated the public mood about “predatory capitalism”, energy prices, tax avoidance, but it has never resulted in him controlling the agenda.

The Conservatives, meanwhile, endlessly talk about their “long-term economic plan”. The phrase bores voters, yet, equally, they seem prepared to believe a plan exists. Labour fumes, but struggles to counter the narrative.

The Conservative lead on economic competence stands at around 15 per cent. When put in personality terms, Cameron and chancellor George Osborne lead Miliband and shadow chancellor Ed Balls by nearly 25 per cent.

Numbers

Even though capital spending cuts have not been as deep as pledged five years ago, it is argued widely, and not just by Labour, that the UK should use the current cheapest-ever debt to embark on a multi-billion-pound infrastructure programme.

Meanwhile, George Osborne has failed to make the promised progress on dealing with the UK’s deficit. In essence, he has managed only to equal Labour’s budgetary pledges in 2010, pledges he had said were so weak that they threatened the UK’s economic destruction.

However, Labour has struggled to persuade voters who complain about spending cuts that, by cutting less, the UK would have enjoyed more growth and more tax receipts.

Opinion polls continue to produce conflicting results, with one from the Guardian/ ICM reporting that the Conservatives are now four points ahead of Labour and that support for the UK Independence Party now stands at 9 per cent, far short of its results in the European Parliament elections.

In Westminster, everyone is focused on the general election, though, in truth, the campaign has yet to grab the public’s undivided attention.

Few will have taken much notice of Miliband’s speech in Jaguar Land Rover. With 70 days to go, he needs to find ignition soon.

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