THE BLOG

The Burden of Leadership

03/06/2014 11:36 BST | Updated 29/07/2014 10:59 BST

"The truth is that Miliband looks weird, sounds weird, is weird," a senior Labour figure told The Times. Hardly the kind of image one would want as leader of the opposition. Following Ukip's success in the recent European elections, rather than raise questions over party policy, both Labour and the Lib Dems have hit the headlines with growing concerns over the suitability of their party leaders.

Ed Miliband did himself no favors earlier this month in a BBC interview where he failed to recognise the name of Jim Grant, a senior Labour councilor for Swindon. The surprised interviewer was asked by Miliband to "enlighten" him as to the identity of the individual. A further slip-up came when the Labour leader poorly estimated the cost of his weekly shop. Guessing at £70 or £80, Miliband was accused of being "out of touch" given that the average family of four spends over £100 per week on groceries. Then there were the disastrous pictures of him attempting to prove he was "in touch" with the public whilst eating a bacon sandwich outside a polling station (an action that perhaps looked good on paper, but spectacularly backfired with a cluster of unflattering images gracing the papers the next day).

Meanwhile, whilst Labour attempts to recover from events of late, the Lib Dems are also raising concerns about their party's leadership. Following the revelation that former Lib Dem peer, Matthew Oakeshott, sought to plot a coup against Nick Clegg to oust him as leader, questions have been circulating as to whether the Deputy PM should resign before the 2015 general election, given his apparent unpopularity. Clegg may never recover from his U-turn on tuitions fees, a broken promise that is still raw amongst voters, however, for a party in government to change leader at the beginning of a campaign trail and inching ever closer to a general election would promote the party as disunited and lacking direction. Changing leader before 2015 would not solve the wider problems the party has concerning policy.

On the other side of the spectrum, Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, is still celebrating from his party's recent success at the polls. If a party leader needs charisma, Farage has it in spades. Whilst some have despaired with the attitude within mainstream politics, many traditional voters have tuned to Farage as he appears to present himself as an ordinary bloke who began his career away from the political limelight. He claims that he is not a career politician (although with his sights set on Westminster, he clearly is), and preaches to the public to join his army in order to get out of Europe and overthrow the establishment. Right or wrong, he plays politics spectacularly well and indeed it appears to be working. However, whether Ukip's recent surge is simply a protest vote remains to be seen. Without a manifesto and with largely only two policies to their name concerning immigration and Europe, it is unlikely that Ukip will gain further ground when it comes to the general election next year. That said, Ukip's "political earthquake" has disrupted politics at a significant time, forcing the electorate to question their traditional beliefs in the mainstream parties.

With less than a year to go before a new government is established, no party would benefit from changing leader at such a crucial stage. Some say that Labour are too focused on policy, perhaps they are, though a credible manifesto is what will bring back the voters, not an alternative leader. Even if Mr Oakeshott's coup had succeeded, the Lib Dems would still be injured by the scars of five years in government, no single individual could erase such harming impact. Although it helps to have a likeable leader with the charisma to win over the electorate, it is largely policy that the public will vote on when they take to the polls next year.

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