The papers over the last few days have been full of the rumour of plots about the downfall of Ed Miliband. However, if one takes a step back the papers tell us nothing more than has been obvious for the past few years. Ed Miliband is out of touch and disliked by swathes of different demographics. This has been the truth for years, according to polling, but the fact that Labour MPs are only waking up to this six months out of a General Election shows how they have struggled to deal with his surprising success in the 2010 leadership battle. Nevertheless, with lack of a challenger, the byzantine Labour Party rules and the fact the General Election is looming reduces the chances of Miliband being defenestrated anytime soon.
Instead, another more real leadership battle has entered a new phase over the last few days – that is the battle for the leadership of the Conservative Party. Yes, Ed is doing poorly, but the Conservatives are doing worse in the polls, with the latest figures putting them down below the 30 percent mark. The Conservative Party does not have the stomach for another coalition and a minority administration would prove unworkable, leading to a potential leadership crisis. Into this vacuum there is one clear frontrunner ready to swoop in with the adoration and support of the membership.
Whilst Boris Johnson has been gaining the media plaudits, over the last year it is the Home Secretary who has been quietly and assiduously making a strong bid for the hearts and minds of the membership. Theresa May is a seasoned politician who is quick to take praise over issues, such as the initially promising immigration figures, whilst being politically deft enough to push negative publicity on this matter over to the UK Border Agency.
Like Boris Johnson, May has had numerous showstopper moments, such as taking the Police Federation to task at their conference, calling for the abolition of the Human Rights Act at Conservative Party Conference and, only this weekend, stating that Britain cannot stay in the European Union “whatever the terms”. But, as one of the most senior people in government, these most forthright messages will make activists froth at the mouth and increase Cameron’s unease that May is the true voice of the local members.
As well as these epics, May has been slowly but steadily increasing the drumbeat of her personal brand. Despite keeping a firm grip on one of the Great Offices of State, she has found time to visit virtually every raffle, fete, tombolo, quiz supper and harvest festival put on by local associations up and down the country. May has always found the time and ability to say a few words and, more importantly, is known to listen to the membership and often sympathise with their views. This is something no other senior Conservative has put in the time to do over the last few years.
By building up this face time with the activists, May is inspiring creeping loyalty. It is no surprise then that last week’s ConHome poll of members put her once again in the lead as the Party members’ top choice for their next leader. While the other contenders are either grabbing short-lived media opportunities or trying to sort out the economic woes of this country, it is the Home Secretary who has got under the skin of the Party, slowly but steadily building up her support base to be in a prime position come next May. The only leader to worry at this should not be Ed Miliband, but David Cameron. Beware the ides of May.
This post was original published on the Pub Affairs site