It’s a perennial question faced by parties who have been voted out of power: does the road back to power require a major change in the party or just minor tweaking?
The Conservatives judged it wrong after 1997, and it took another two election defeats before the party set about significantly recasting itself. Initial political pundit reaction to the 2010 election was to warn Labour against making the same mistakes. Yet the historical record is far from clear on this. After all, Labour has twice been voted out of power at general election and bounced straight back into power at the next. On both occasions (1929 and February 1974) it returned to power without having massively remade itself. Business pretty much as usual may have failed the Conservatives after 1997, but it has a record of working for Labour.
Looking to the views of its own supporters won’t help Labour’s leaders much in making this decision because, as a recent YouGov poll shows, they are split down the middle.
Labour voters were asked whether or not they agreed with the statement, “Labour need to make major changes to their policies and beliefs to be fit for government again.” 49% agreed and 45% disagreed.
Yet Labour supporters are also optimistic about how quickly such changes can be made, agreeing 84% – 8% that “After a short period in opposition Labour will be ready for a quick return to office” and by 55% – 37% that “Labour’s past problems were down to poor leadership, there is nothing wrong with the party itself.”
With their leader changed and several former prominent Cabinet ministers retiring from front rank politics, the leadership is already changed. Will it be enough? That is the biggest question facing Ed Miliband.