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Miliband Must Go After the Tentative Ukippers, Not the Ex-Lib Dems

19/05/2014 17:18 BST | Updated 18/07/2014 10:59 BST

Huffington Post reader - imagine a scenario for me. You've woken up this morning, and you're doing your usual morning thing, whatever that is. Everything's pretty cool, until you happen to walk past a mirror and - woah! What the hell? It turns out you're Ed Miliband. This is clearly some kind of Freaky Friday situation, you think to yourself, but seeing as you haven't got a clue how to fix it, you decide, because you're a pragmatic guy or gal, that you'd just better pretend to be Ed Miliband until everything is sorted out.

What sort of dilemmas are on your newly-Milibandised plate, then? The big one, I guess, would be how to get yourself a win in next year's general election. The guy who was Ed Miliband before you was doing... OK, sort of, but everyone agrees he should be doing better. Have you got the policies that people really want? Well, again, you're doing OK...ish. Old Ed certainly made some decent noises, got some decent themes, but he really wasn't quite the finished article. If you're going to be Ed Miliband for the foreseeable future, you're going to have to give yourself a boost.

You've decided that you need to find yourself some more votes. The guys you're in charge of only got 29% last time, so you need to find them somewhere. You look to your left, and you see the Liberal Democrats. They look a sorry bunch, and no mistake. A lot of their guys seem awfully similar to your guys, too. Perhaps you should put all your efforts into stealing those guys for yourself? That's what the real Ed Miliband was doing before this Freaky Friday thing happened, with his anti-Nick Clegg attack adverts. If you carry on with that, then maybe you'll get enough of them over to your side in order to scrape a win?

That's certainly a plausible plan, well done. It might even work, just about. However, you've missed a couple of the problems that lie in that choice. Don't worry - you're new to being Ed Miliband. I'm here to help you out.

The first issue with chasing after the Lib Dem vote is that it's probably largely futile at this point. The vast majority of 2010 Lib Dem voters who aren't going to be voting for them in 2015 will have made their minds up on what they're going to do next time by now. That's because they decamped from the party, en masse, almost at the exact point at which Clegg took them into coalition with the Conservatives. The ones who were sympathetic to Labour, new Ed, will already be yours.

They're probably a bit left-wing, a bit socially liberal, and they'll be happy with old Ed breaking away from the New Labour record on foreign policy, among other things. The rest are probably not going to be convinced by you, not now. The trouble with going after Liberal Democrat voters from 2010 is that they were ripped away from the party, brutally and painfully, in a kneejerk fashion as soon as Nick Clegg walked into the Downing Street rose garden with David Cameron. Changes of allegiance that are triggered in a messy, visceral bloodbath of broken promises tend to stick, and anyone who had their hearts trampled on by the Liberal Democrats in this manner last time around will already be firmly in one camp or another by this point in the election cycle - they care too much about limited, specific issues such as tuition fees, for example, not to be.

The second problem you face, new Ed, in hunting down these ex-Lib Dems is that it's not an especially bold strategy. This may seem like an image issue, but you've not been left with a particularly good image, so that's important. If you look like you're trying to edge your way over the winning line to No. 10, then you appear disingenuous, slippery and overly tactical. It may not even be too successful a plan, either, because they tend to hang on like barnacles in the kind of marginal seats that you'll need to win next time. It would be much better, rather than targeting a narrow band of special interest voters, to instead set out a broad vision that can attract wider support across society.

This, then, is where we find your real electoral prize, lurking in the shadows. It may seem difficult, Ed 2.0, but it's a necessary exercise. You're going to have to tackle Ukip. They may appear unstoppable at the moment, about to win the European elections, but that's not the case. They've never won a parliamentary seat. They have no consistent, stable electoral base of voters. Their support appears wide-ranging now, in the middle of this unusual coalition parliament, but it's never been tested yet at a general election. It is, therefore, soft, and ripe for the taking.

It's been suggested that, while Ukip is often portrayed as being an uber-libertarian wing of the Conservative party, their support is actually much more similar demographically to what would have always been classified as traditional Labour voters. If this is the case, then these voters have not been in the possession of Ukip for very long. They can't have been, or the party would have done better at general elections before now. They aren't fixed to Ukip yet - but if you neglect them, then they can become so. You've got a lot of work to do. You have to show them that Labour isn't the Blair-Brown party of big business, privatisation and deregulation (with social justice promoted on the sly). You need big announcements, on all areas of policy, that show Labour as what it has always claimed to be - the party that helps everyone, not just the elites.

This fight that you must take on, new Ed, isn't just for the good of Labour's electoral chances in 2015. It's for the good of British politics too. There are many reasons why people are edging towards Ukip, chief among which is a growing dissatisfaction with the major parties. Ukip is the option for those who see no other way to get their voices heard. That's an understandable reason to vote for them. However, that obscures the major disconnection between the party and the people who are tentatively, for the first time, offering Ukip their support. Nigel Farage's party is virulently, violently Thatcherite, xenophobic and maddeningly libertarian, protecting the same elitist strands of society that always get the better end of the stick from British governments. Furthermore, no matter how much Farage argues, it is clear that the party has attracted for candidates people who appear to be both homophobic and racist, among other troubling things. These ideals don't correlate with the voters who may be putting their cross in the Ukip box - the poor, working-class, middle-aged, left-behind people who just want a fair shot in an economy rigged against them. They would be betrayed by Ukip. Labour needs to win them back, and offer them a future that benefits them, because they carry the vast majority of British society upon their backs. That's your challenge, dear reader, for as long as you are trapped in the body of Ed Miliband. I never did watch Freaky Friday, so I'm not sure how it'll all work out.