Sometimes I almost feel sorry for Ed Miliband. Over the last few days, even usually sympathetic media outlets have been chastising the Labour leader. You've got to wonder if he regrets stabbing his brother, David, in the back.
Unfortunately, for those in the red corner, the facts are indisputable. Time and time again Ed has fallen short of the mark. In an era of social media and endless news coverage, he isn't suited to the constant and unscrupulous media onslaught. Let's be honest, you know you're in trouble when The Observer are sticking the boot in. He's just had yet another re-launch and, unsurprisingly, it wasn't exactly a game changer. He's still banging on about the cost of living crisis and zero hours contracts. Neither of which are particularly relevant to most voters - especially as the economy continues to grow. There's no radical rhetoric, eye catching policies or savvy show stopping sound bites. Apparently he's going to tackle the zero-zero economy - whatever that means. Then there's his pledge to tackle "vested interests". Presumably that includes the unions vice like grip on his own party.
We're months away from a general election and Ed looks more directionless than ever. Voters aren't daft. We could forgive Ed if he was simply a little bit goofy. However, the real problem runs far deeper than that. In plain terms, he consistently fails to connect with the electorate - particularly the working class. The left wing intellectual from Primrose Hill has nothing in common with Mondeo Man and never will.
Over the last 4 years he's ambled along, lurching from one PR disaster to another. We've had fundamental details omitted from a keynote speech, bacon sandwich gate and a cringe making episode involving a handful of loose change and a beggar. Is he electable? Probably not. Although terrifyingly there's still an outside chance of him getting the keys to Downing Street.
If Labour have any serious election ambitions, they must act now. A change of leadership would re-invigorate their chances in 2015.
The question is, if not Ed, who?
A couple of obvious contenders would be either Balls or Burnham. Both would be a disaster. Balls has hardly covered himself in glory as Shadow Chancellor and Burnham would represent yet another misplaced lurch to the left. Burnham has vehemently denied plotting against Miliband, but there's almost certainly Machiavellian manoeuvring occurring in the shadow cabinet. If it's not from Burnham it'll be someone else. In public, everyone is backing the leader. Quite what's going on behind the scenes is open to debate.
Alan Johnson, the former postman, would be a popular choice if Miliband were to get the boot. Likeable and approachable, he may resonate with many disaffected Labour voters. Unusually, Johnson is not a career politician. And, unlike many of his peers, has experienced life outside of the Westminster bubble. That said, despite his clear appeal, it seems Johnson has little appetite for a leadership coup.
Those searching for a young pretender may look longingly towards Chuka Umunna or Tristram Hunt. Umunna, the former City lawyer, is seen as a more media friendly alternative who may appeal to younger voters. Similarly Hunt, MP for Stoke on Trent, ticks the boxes marked "looks better on TV than Ed" and "appeals to middle England".
Regardless of who may or may not replace the beleaguered leader, one thing is clear. Labour are in big trouble. Not only are they failing to convince floating voters, they're also losing votes in their heartlands. Poor planning and complacency has cost them dearly in Scotland.
The problem is it's not only a change of leadership that's needed. It's a wholesale change in mentality. Labour don't understand the people they're supposed to represent. Their systematic failure to empathise with aspirational working people is dragging them into the dark ages. Couple that with an ostrich like approach to immigration and a questionable grasp on economics and the inevitable will happen. A long and painful jaunt into the political wilderness.
Let's be clear, Ed is a serious problem, but for Labour their issues run far deeper. One step at a time, though. The calamitous cartoon leader has to go.