It was a relief to Ed Miliband that his defeated elder brother took a step back from frontline politics after losing the Labour leadership race in September. But David Miliband has remained, like Banquo at the feast, a visible presence on the backbenches from where he could – at some theoretical later date – still return to wreak revenge.
A survey in yesterday’s Sunday Times makes troubling reading for Ed. It suggests that 12 per cent of the public think Ed would be the better Labour leader, far below the 37 per cent for David. That is a very similar finding to surveys published during the summer.
Meanwhile pollsters found that 40 per cent of the public do not rate Ed Miliband’s leadership skills, compared to 27 per cent who do.
Back then Ed’s allies shrugged off those polls. Within a few months, they argued, people would have seen Ed in action and would have warmed to him. (David’s position as foreign secretary had given him a higher profile).
That shift in public opinion does not seem to have happened, however, although Labour as a party is now consistently ahead in the polls. The unknown unknown is where Labour would be polling if it had a more charismatic and decisive leader.
David is keeping his powder dry in terms of any remaining Labour ambitions. This morning he was quoted in his local newspaper saying:
“I’ve got to admit I wish the leadership campaign had gone differently, but who knows what will happen in the future?…I think Ed’s done well. It’s a very difficult job being the leader of the opposition, especially in the first year of a Parliament, but I don’t wish to give a running commentary. In the end, it is the people who decide.”
This morning the hack pack had another chance to watch the leader in action at the first of his monthly press conferences. (When asked if he wanted his brother back he vaguely repeated his line that his “door is always open“.)
The key messages were:
* He wants to bring dissident Lib Dems on board and will invite them to join a panel, led by Liam Byrne, to examine policy formation. He could do coalition with the Lib Dems but not under Nick Clegg.
* Ed is – on balance – is keen for high speed rail to go ahead, contrary to Maria Eagle’s interview on Saturday.
* He’s no longer keen on going on anti-cuts marches: “I wouldn’t hold your breath for me to go on marches.”
* He thinks the pro-AV campaign will lose if Nick Clegg is the figurehead
* His critique of the coalition is that they believe that a small number of the very poor need help from the state but few others.
* He believes his policies, decried as leftwing by some, are in fact mainstream while the coalition which – he argues – is “way off the centreground”.
UPDATE: The blogosphere is reporting that Tom Baldwin, a former Times journalist, is to be Ed Miliband’s new head of press. Labour loyalist Baldwin is a “larger-than-life” personality with shades of Alastair Campbell.
FURTHER UPDATE 3.30pm: Guido is reporting that Bob Roberts, currently political editor of the Mirror, will be Miliband’s spokesman. I put this to Labour an hour ago and they refused to comment.