THE BLOG

The Ed Miliband Storm In a Teacup

11/11/2014 14:27 GMT | Updated 11/01/2015 10:59 GMT

To read some of the papers, you would think that Ed Miliband was on course to lose the next election, that his party was the one haemorrhaging more MPs, voters and poll ratings to UKIP than any other, and that his signature policies on Europe, immigration and the deficit were all in disarray. In fact, none of these are Ed Miliband's problems. All of them are David Cameron's.

Nonetheless - this weekend saw a challenge to the Labour leader.

Here's what happened. The Observer on Sunday reported that twenty Labour frontbenchers supported Miliband, but, they said, if veteran former minister Alan Johnson were to stand as leader, they'd transfer their support to him. You could almost hear the press pack's attention shifting in Alan Johnson's direction, the frantic searching on mobile phones for his contact details, and the sense that this weekend could go down in history as one of the most dramatic weekends in modern Labour Party's history: the weekend the party deposed its leader six months out from a general election. And so, the question was put to Alan Johnson: will you stand for leader? If he said yes, there would be blood on the carpet.

How has it come to this?

Ed Miliband is not polling well. He has a net satisfaction rating of minus 35 points (according to IPSOS MORI's poll of 11 - 14 October). By comparison, David Cameron's net favourability is minus 17 points and Nigel Farage's is minus four points. In the latest YouGov poll, 64% of the public said they didn't think Ed Miliband would make a good Prime Minister. And out on the doorsteps, Labour activists often find that their leader is less popular than their policies. This is why there is muttering in the ranks.

Some less thoughtful commentators will look at these facts and come to the conclusion that the situation is simple: unpopular leader leads to leadership challenge, case closed.

But it is not case closed. What they don't consider is that Labour are currently still on track to govern in May. With Ed Miliband as leader, Labour are still ahead in the polls. UKIP are still taking more votes from the Tories than Labour. A full third of 2010 Lib Dem voters are still telling pollsters they'll vote Labour, and Labour are still united, the Tories divided.

And, twenty four hours on, the 'leadership crisis' looks rather different. When the journalists caught up with Alan Johnson, he simply reiterated that he didn't want to go back to frontline politics, and supported Ed. When a Labour blog challenged the shadow cabinet mutterers to criticise Miliband openly, nobody did. And when supporters started sending supportive messages using the hashtag #webackEd, it started trending on Twitter.

So why did the leadership challenge flare up and then die down again so suddenly? The truth is that whilst Ed may not be popular, he faces problems that any other leader would face, and everyone in the party knows that he has started to respond to them thoughtfully and credibly.

For example, anyone taking Ed Miliband's job would still have to answer the question of what Labour is for when there is little money to spend. Ed has answered that: to reform the economy to begin to pull the gap between the haves and have-nots into reverse by increasing the minimum wage, making sure that everyone whose job depends on the government earns a living wage, and giving money and power over training to industry groups.

Anyone else in his position would still have to answer the question of how to win power when an insurgent party on the right wants to talk about immigration and Europe. He has answered that: hold firm in support of the European Union and collect the pro-EU vote, and ban agencies offering British jobs to non-Brits only, and strengthen policing of the minimum wage.

Those around Ed know his weaknesses, but they also know his strengths. As Chuka Umunna, often tipped by the press as a leadership contender, told the Today Programme, "people don't normally associate honesty and sincerity with politicians, but they do with Ed Miliband."

Dr Azeem Ibrahim is the Executive Chairman of the Scotland Institute