The Week in Review: Miliband’s summer malaise
Drifting along is a good way of enjoying the hot weather, but not a great approach if you're leader of the opposition.
It has been a tough week for Ed Miliband. His speechwriters messed up by using a dud statistic. His prime minister's questions effort was lacklustre, and he was reduced to laughing as David Cameron made fun of him. The man he appointed to head Labour's policy review, Jon Cruddas, has been leaking left right and centre, complaining of a "dead hand" at the centre of the Labour party and moaning that the leader is being "gamed out" (not sure what that means, but it sounds bad). Lord Glasman talked of his "conformist mediocrity". And his big speech of the week, on how Labour just loves business, was largely ignored. It must truly be, as Cameron put it across the despatch box, a "miserable existence" to be the leader of the Labour opposition.
And yet Miliband will not have given up hope about next year. The 'Juncker bounce' resulting from the PM's latest bout of eurosceptic grandstanding in Brussels may have reduced the gap in the polls to just a few percentage points, but even this is more than enough to stop the Tories getting an overall majority. It will be very hard for Miliband to get over the line next year, true. But that is a reality he must surely, now, be coming to accept. A further plus is that Cameron, like Miliband, has problems of his own.
Today's 18-month sentence for a certain former head of communications in Downing Street is just one of them. It's a "damning verdict for David Cameron as well as Andy Coulson", as Labour's Michael Dugher puts it. The PM was put through the wringer on this story last week and, thanks to the retrial of Coulson on other charges, will be put through the wringer again in the future.
And yet there is something in Cameron's character that allows him to get through these bad news days and emerge with healthy poll ratings. Perhaps it is the traits he picked up while at boarding school – an unhealthy place, as psychotherapist Nick Duffell's been explaining this week. Regardless, Cameron is a remarkably resilient leader who never seems to face the full force of public anger his enemies might expect. Not just over Coulson, or the Tories' wealthy donors, but even over the economy: a fledgling recovery appears to be making the public forget about the austerity agenda for which this government will ultimately be remembered. The cuts are only going to bite in 2016, when there really will be no money left; while the coming general election might be a good one to lose, for now the exaggerated recovery seems to sum up Cameron's knack of getting away with it.
Where does this leave Miliband? Facing a summer of rumblings, that's where. It will baffle him. On paper, he is in a strong position. He has been playing a long game for four years, now, and his big chance of taking power is just ten months away. So why is it proving so hard? Why are the public not convinced? Why is his rival so unruffled?
The sun might be shining outside, but Miliband needs to stop drifting through the summer.