Grant Woodward: Ed lost it in Leeds and after that Labour were goners

Ed Miliband's refusal to acknowledge Labour overspent in government ended his chance of electoral victory. PIC: PA
Ed Miliband's refusal to acknowledge Labour overspent in government ended his chance of electoral victory. PIC: PA
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eASY to say now, but did we really believe those polls that gave Ed Miliband a chance of being Prime Minister?

For me, the election was won and lost a week before polling day – right here in Leeds.

Two moments in the BBC Question Time debate at the Town Hall meant voters were never going to give Labour the keys to Downing Street.

The first one came out of the blue. For the first six minutes of his appearance in front of a typically no-nonsense Yorkshire audience, Ed was actually doing ok.

He admitted mistakes had been made during Labour’s years in power, particularly when it came to regulating the banks and the applause was proof that this was exactly what they needed to hear.

Then came the bombshell. An innocuous enough query – “Do you accept that when Labour was last in power it overspent?” – should have been another easy one to deal with.

But Ed had other ideas. “No, I don’t,” he replied snippily, to audible gasps of astonishment from the audience. Some even broke out into nervous, disbelieving laughter.

Wait a minute, said another bloke, “if I get to the end of the week and can’t afford to buy a pint, I’ve overspent. We got to the end of a government and during that 13-year period you spent, spent, spent. You can’t stand there and say you didn’t overspend.”

But Ed could. And he did – thereby ensuring that anyone at home toying with the idea of giving Labour another chance on the basis that they couldn’t possibly make such a horlicks of it second time around promptly changed their minds.

From that moment on, Labour were dead and buried. For six years before the crash, they had increased borrowing year after year after year.

For the avoidance of doubt, they even left a note – from outgoing Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liam Byrne – that there was no money left.

Yet here was their leader refusing to accept liability.

After that clanger came a moment of farce. As Ed left the stage, waving to the audience, he stumbled and almost fell flat on his face.
 Watching Channel 4 show Gogglebox a few days later proved the reactions were the same up and down the land.

The nation – or at least the five million who bothered to watch Question Time – either rolled around their sofas howling with laughter or hid behind their hands, unable to watch. Me and my wife did both.

Make this clown Prime Minister? Don’t think so.

The trouble is that Labour had allowed Britain’s natural love of an underdog to cloud their vision of where their campaign was really at.

The cringe-inducing outbreak of ‘Milifandom’ – complete with hen party selfies and brief Je Suis Ed craze which saw members of the public film themselves eating bacon sandwiches, a task apparently beyond poor Ed – told them that he had a realistic shot of becoming Prime Minister.

Clearly they couldn’t tell the difference between sympathy and support. And at the Question Time debate the stark contrast between the hapless Ed and a suave and assured David Cameron was finally made all too clear.

But if the tipping point came in Leeds, then the die was surely cast five years earlier across the Pennines, when the Labour Party made the mistake of electing the wrong brother at its annual conference in Manchester.

David Miliband was on the money this week when he said that his brother’s shift from the centre ground – his bribe to the unions that brought him the leadership – was a disaster waiting to happen.

His campaign, he said, would have embraced the sense of “aspiration and inclusion” that Ed so readily abandoned.

Staring down the barrel of at least another decade in the wilderness, Labour will now have plenty of time to wonder what might have been.