HAS the Daily Telegraph political blogger Dan Hodges – former Labour Party staffer, uber-Blairite and son of the film actress Glenda Jackson – gone bonkers or suffered a major sense-of-humour failure? Or has he put his finger on a concern troubling some Labour supporters – that, whatever the opinion polls might suggest, Ed Miliband is not going to win the 2015 general election?
In his latest Telegraph column, Hodges takes aim at a new Labour party political broadcast uploaded on YouTube this week. Hodges doesn’t just hate it – he thinks it is proof that by playing the class card, Labour is throwing away the chance of victory next May.
The object of Hodges’s ire is a three-minute black and white film titled The Un-Credible Shrinking Man which targets – mercilessly if not always hilariously – the Lib Dem party leader. It is set at the Cabinet table where ‘Nick Clegg’ is gradually beaten into submission by a bullying ‘David Cameron’ to the hurrahs of fellow toffee-nosed Tory ministers.
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‘Clegg’ gradually shrinks in size - just like Grant Williams in the 1957 sci-fi film The Incredible Shrinking Man - until he is a mere doll-sized figure, left alone to fend for himself against a now gigantic Downing Street cat.
You get the picture. Like a lot of spoofs, it’s not as funny as its creators thought it might be, but it’s not that bad either and, on one level at least, it does its job – which is to (a) get talked about (how many party political broadcasts achieve that?) and (b) target disaffected Lib Dem voters by mocking their leader as a man who has abandoned his principles (on tuition fees, etc) for the sake of sharing power with the Tories.
But Hodges is left desperately unimpressed. “It’s not just the ludicrous caricature of the Conservatives – including a gratuitous dig at the late Baroness Thatcher,” he writes. “Or the infantile portrayal of Nick Clegg. Or the fact it seeks to treat the electorate like they’re sniggering schoolchildren.
“It proves conclusively that Labour is no longer serious about winning the next election. It has no serious strategy, or serious policy, or any intention of convincing the nation it is serious about governing.
“Instead the people who run it – or pretend to run it – are playing a game. They are living out a self-indulgent student fantasy in which they get to strike poses, and shout slogans, and scream ‘Toff!’ at every passing Tory they see.”
He concludes: “Labour has sent a clear message. ‘We’re just not a serious party of government’.”
Hodges’s ballistic missile does not come out of the blue. He is a fully signed-up Blairite who wanted David not Ed Miliband to lead the Labour party and has long argued that Ed is steering a course too far to the left.
Nor is it the first time he’s shown his disapproval of people taking “gratuitous digs” against Thatcher. This came up a year ago when he urged Labour backbenchers to show respect at a special session of Parliament following her death.
But Glenda Jackson - star of A Touch of Class and Women in Love and since 1992 the Labour MP for Hampstead - totally ignored her son’s advice and launched into a speech in which she criticised Thatcher for treating “vices as virtues” and called her “a woman, but not on my terms”.
The next day, Hodges wrote a very touching column which began “I tried to warn you, Mum. I really did…” and yet concluded: “I think the House of Commons assembled on Wednesday to honour a woman of conviction. And like it or not, a woman of conviction was what it got to see.”
Will he show the same humility if Team Miliband can prove him wrong about the coming general election?
We may not have long to wait to discover whether Hodges is on the right track. In two weeks’ time, the latest megapoll of marginal seats commissioned by the Tory peer Michael Ashcroft will be released. For polling anoraks, this is just as interesting as the results of the local or EU elections, due the same weekend.
Lord Ashcroft’s last such poll, conducted in September 2013, showed Labour enjoying an 8.5 per cent swing in the marginals, compared with a six per cent swing nationally – enough to guarantee Miliband victory by 70 seats or more.
Recent national polling, however, has been far less positive for Labour: the Populus monthly aggregate shows Labour’s lead has been gradually slipping – mainly due to the slowing down of disaffected Lib Dem voters saying they’ll switch to Labour. (Hence, Labour’s party political.)
If Ashcroft’s new poll shows a similar falling-off of Lib Dem switchers to Labour in the all-important marginals, then it will boost Hodges’s argument that Team Miliband needs to do an awful lot more to secure victory than put out funny films.
As Mike Smithson of Political Betting puts it, Labour “has attracted very little new support from any group other than those who voted Lib Dem four years ago.” Labour needs these disaffected Lib Dems badly: “Managing this is the most vital task for Labour if they want to return to power.”
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