Opposition is a depressing, slightly sordid business, where you scrap around looking for opportunities to make a positive impact. When they come: grab them. The flip side of this is when under pressure, or a difficult issue crops up, you need to deal with it quickly so the situation doesn’t become a crisis and may actually become an opportunity to positively define yourselves to the electorate.
After a poor last month of 2011, Ed Miliband needed to get out of the blocks quickly in 2012. He has made little positive impact on voters but worse than that, in the short term, is the way commentators and political journalists are writing him off. Once this media narrative develops it is very difficult to turn around. A policy announcement, a well constructed speech or a clever intervention in the week before Parliament resumed sitting, could have provided Miliband and the Labour Party with a little bit of momentum to begin the year.
Instead Miliband dithered over what action to take after Diane Abbott’s misguided Tweet. Whatever course of action the Labour leader wanted to take, an apology, resignation or sacking, should have come way before it did. Hours passed with no word from Miliband or his team. With the Commons in recess there were no other stories around to distract journalists and bloggers so this descended into a feeding frenzy which the Labour Party looked ill-prepared to deal with.
Having cynically stoked similar ‘Tory Race Rows’ when in government Labour’s lack of urgency in shutting down the story was bizarre. That the saga was played out live on Sky News made things even worse, with Miliband calling Abbott as she was talking on camera to the news channel. Was seeing her on his TV screen the catalyst to action? For someone who aspires to be Prime Minister one day, one would hope not.