Though it hasn’t been a great month for British prime minister David Cameron, November was quite possibly the worst month in the four-year tenure of Labour leader Ed Miliband, who was forced to endure a full-fledged crisis of confidence just six months before the next general election.
Miliband (pictured above) began the first half of the month batting away rumors that a backbencher uprising might topple him from the leadership just before the country prepares for the May 2015 general election. Miliband had already come under fire for a lackluster speech at Labour’s September party conference in which he didn’t mention the British budget deficit.
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Most reports urged Alan Johnson, the widely respected former home secretary, as a potential replacement, though Johnson declaimed all interest in leading the party, thereby depriving any plotters of the most necessary ingredient to a successful putsch — the quick installation of a universally well-regarded successor.
Labour struggling to retain working-class supporters
No sooner did the ‘dump Miliband’ story quell than Miliband was forced to sack Emily Thornberry, the shadow work and pensions secretary, for a photograph (see below) posted to Twitter that seemed to mock working-class English voters — it’s a peculiar quirk of the delicate nature of class that a photo of a white van parked in front of a house with two English flags waving would stir such controversy. But it’s arguably the most damaging moment for Labour vis-à-vis the British working class since April 2010, when then-prime minister Gordon Brown was overheard calling a Labour supporter a ‘bigoted woman.’
Miliband was forced to reaffirm that Labour was founded as the party of ‘working people,’ even as Nigel Farage’s anti-Europe, populist United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) now threatens to steal as many traditional supporters from Labour as from the Conservative Party.
UKIP won a November 20 by-election in Rochester and Strood, triggered by Conservative MP Mark Reckless’s decision to defect to the party — Reckless, as the newly minted UKIP candidate, easily defeated Tory challenger Kelly Tolhurst, leaving Labour far behind in third place with 16.8%. Reckless is the second Tory to defect to UKIP, joining Douglas Carswell — and quite possibly others in the months ahead.
Though you might think that’s more of a headache for Cameron than for Miliband, UKIP’s rise is just one reason why the November scare won’t be the last time between now and May that Miliband faces a surge of doubt within Labour ranks.