The Week in Review: The Sun begins to set on Ed Miliband

Ed Miliband infuriated his supporters this week.
Ed Miliband infuriated his supporters this week.
Adam Bienkov By

The vultures are circling, the wolves are at the edge of the camp, the sharks are nibbling at his toes.

Whatever metaphor you choose to use, Ed Miliband is in serious danger right now.

The fury directed at Miliband in the past 24 hours following his decision to pose with a copy of The Sun has shocked those around the Labour leader. When he's previously posed with the paper in both 2010, 2011 and even last month, there was hardly a murmur. That there was such a fierce reaction this time, shows how quickly the ground is starting to move underneath him.

Part of the reaction was down to timing. The Sun's decision to send a free edition to every household in England angered those who remember the paper's coverage of the Hillsborough disaster and numerous other stories.


When Labour members across the country were taping up their letter boxes and cheering on postal workers who refused to deliver it, it was clearly a bad time for Ed be pictured with a copy.

But this wasn't really about Hillsborough, or even Rupert Murdoch. This was about Ed Milband and the growing sense among Labour supporters that he just isn't up to the job.

When several polls showed the Conservatives ahead last month, it felt like a dam-breaking moment for the party. The thin wall protecting Miliband from those dissatisfied with his leadership had finally burst open. When Labour then went on to perform poorly in the local and European election results, things could only get worse.

But leaders can survive a few poor polls or election results. Labour did make some significant gains in the local elections, most notably in London and other big cities. His Commons performances have also started to improve.

But what leaders can't survive is the perception of weakness and The Sun saga has left him looking dangerously weakened.

Miliband's stand against News International during the phone-hacking scandal was a high-point in his leadership. Whether people agreed with it or not, it looked strong. His actions in the past 24 hours looked weak.

The photo of Miliband grinning awkwardly, while holding up a copy of the paper made him appear like a hostage in a terrorist video. Labour MPs must have been unsure whether to put their heads in their hands or send in the negotiators.

His decision today to issue a semi-apology if anything just made this worse.

For now, Labour's anger with Miliband remains bubbling under the surface. Most of the criticisms of his leadership are either being made in private or by people who can be easily dismissed.

The real danger for Miliband will come if that begins to change. Miliband can survive a row over a few botched photo-opportunities. What he won't be able to survive is if that low-level grumbling turns into a wider mutiny. If that nagging unease turns into widespread despair.

Miliband's PR problems this week may seem trivial, but they have obscured what should have been far more serious problems for the government.

The passport backlog at the Home Office and the controversy over teaching in Birmingham schools are much more significant than any of the problems currently facing the Labour leader.

The open warfare between Michael Gove and Theresa May was a highly dangerous moment for David Cameron and the government.

Faced with an opportunity like that, Miliband should have been on the front line leading the charge. Instead he was caught napping behind the lines.

It's not too late for the Labour leader. The structural weakness of Conservative support in the country means the next election is still very much there for the taking.

But first Miliband must reassure Labour that he has what it takes to win. Right now his party seem far from convinced.

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