Labour in the UK is in dreadful trouble with a lacklustreÂ leader who is highly rated, by himself mostly.
Last Friday, Ed Milibandâs team assembled to review the previous dayâs launch of the âCondition of Britainâ report from the IPPR think tank, which Miliband had enthusiastically embraced. The morning papers were dominated by Englandâs World Cup defeat at the hands of Uruguay, but what coverage there was gave the Labour leaderâs aides cause for concern. âNo oneâs out there backing us up,â observed one of his press advisers sombrely.
Although the speech had been heavily trailed in advance, the rest of the shadow cabinet were conspicuous by their absence. With the exception of Rachel Reeves, who holds the welfare brief, few of Milibandâs colleagues appeared keen publicly to endorse his tough new line on benefits.
âWell, what did they expect,â one bemused shadow cabinet member told me. âHeâs spent the past four years telling everyone: ‘Iâm going to stand up to the Tories on welfare.â Then he suddenly says: ‘Actually, you know what, Iâm not.â And he expects everyone to come running?â
As Ed Miliband is painfully aware, no one is planning to do so. Which is why his office had to spend the rest of Friday ringing round, drumming up support for their beleaguered boss in the weekend papers. Reeves, Chuka Umunna and Tristram Hunt duly emerged to issue supportive statements, along with Neil Kinnock, who was â bizarrely â sent out to rebut the charge that Miliband was turning intoâŠ Neil Kinnock.
One person who did not issue a supportive statement, of course, was the shadow chancellor, Ed Balls. Indeed, over the past few weeks, rumours have started to circulate in the corridors of Westminster that Balls is âon manoeuvresâ. âHeâs up to something,â MPs have been whispering to one another, in conspiratorial tones.