Labour not yet picture perfect

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AS political interviews, they could not have been more contrasting in style or content – Ed Miliband talking intimately about his family as he fended off criticism about his leadership, while a pugnacious Ed Balls implored disillusioned Lib Dems to abandon the Tories and form a centre-left coalition with Labour.

Yet both interviews go to the heart of the Opposition’s difficulties as Labour finds itself unexpectedly trailing the Conservatives in the opinion polls, despite David Cameron confronting a financial crisis without parallel since the war.

In this stage of a Parliament, the Opposition is normally riding high and tries to ignore poll ratings for fear of complacency. Mr Miliband and his effective second-in-command, both prominent Yorkshire MPs, do not have that luxury. As such, the Labour leader’s candour about his family has ramifications for the Shadow Chancellor’s intervention – and vice-versa.

While many Tories were sceptical of David Cameron during the first two years of his leadership, he did, at least, begin to modernise his party and move it towards the political centre ground – the place where elections are won and lost.

Yet, rather than accepting that this is from where New Labour won three elections under Tony Blair, Mr Miliband appears to have moved to the left, politically-speaking, and alienated those floating voters who, while sceptical about the coalition, still blame the last Government’s irresponsible spending for the financial crisis.

And while some senior Lib Dems would clearly be more comfortable with Labour – Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, admits to contemplating his resignation several times a day – they are unlikely to break the coalition, and risk an even greater electoral backlash, if they are unclear about what Mr Miliband’s party stands for.

While enchanting photographs of the Doncaster MP may endear him to Labour diehards, they will not win over waverers. What is required is far more clarity from Mr Miliband on how he intends to lead Britain out of the slump – lame jokes at Prime Minister’s Questions will not suffice – and precision about how Labour would finance public service reform. His task could not be more onerous – or urgent.