The Labour Party's funk
Running out of road
Labour is an increasingly unpopular party with lots of popular policies
IF POLITICAL platforms were the sum of their parts, the Labour Party would tower over its rivals.
In recent months Ed Miliband, its leader, has produced several overwhelmingly popular policies.
According to YouGov, a polling firm, voters support the party's plan to increase the top rate of income tax by three to one.
By about the same margin they like its talk of tackling dodgy landlords, blocking foreign takeovers of British firms and boosting the minimum wage.
Yet Labour's polling lead over the Conservative Party is slipping.
According to YouGov it has fallen from an average of seven points in November to two-and-a-half points in May so far.
It is quite possible that the populist right-wing UK Independence Party will beat Labour to first place in elections to the European Parliament on May 22nd
Not long ago Labour staffers were confidently describing the European vote as a dry run for the general election, due to be held in a year's time.
Labour, then, is an increasingly unloved party with increasingly popular policies.
What explains this? The familiar answer is to blame the messenger.
Mr Miliband struggles to appeal to voters through the mass media, often coming across as pleading and uncomfortable.
His team have hired a broadcast expert and David Axelrod, who helped Barack Obama win two presidential elections,
to improve their man's performance and messages.
A series of awkward interviews in the run up to the European vote suggested that both would have their work cut out.
But that problem is older than Labour's poll slump. Instead, three things seem to account for the party's recent woes.
The specific one is that Labour's propaganda machine is not working.
Policy announcements have been rushed, too close together and quickly forgotten for lack of follow-up, sighs one Milibandite.
A pledge to cut waiting times for doctors' appointments was a case in point:
unveiled with great fanfare on May 12th, it was not once mentioned by Mr Miliband in Prime Minister's Questions just two days later.
Sometimes messages clash. Labour's response to UKIP has ranged from cool dismissal to angry denouncement.
An execrable electoral video depicting the Liberal Democrats as the gullible stooges of evil Tory toffs collided head-on with Mr Miliband's talk of making politics less petty.
A bigger problem is that Labour's central economic message, that the recovery is failing to lift living standards, is running out of road.
Real wages are beginning to emerge from their long slump, making people feel, if not richer, at least not poorer.
And Labour lacks a fall-back argument: the party has done little over the past years to dispel the reputation for spendthrift ineptitude that it acquired during the financial crisis.
The Tories' lead over the opposition on economic competence has grown from two to 14 points in the past year.
Finally, as the general election approaches, the main job of the opposition shifts from holding the government to account to proposing an alternative.
But Labour's messages remain deeply negative and gloomy.
It has repeatedly told people how much they are being ripped off by energy firms and other businesses,
but has failed to put forward a hopeful vision of a prosperous Britain, grumble internal malcontents.
Patrick Diamond, a former policy adviser to the party, adds that by taking advantage of public mistrust of business,
Labour is at best telling voters what they already know (that the party cares about the little guy).
At worst it risks alienating those working in the private sector.
These three problems add up to one big one: although voters like the party's individual policies,
they do not like the overall image that these convey.
Until Labour corrects this, says Deborah Mattinson of Britain Thinks, a polling outfit,
the gush of announcements may do it more harm than good.
If people do not trust the party in the first place, she argues, they just see these as craven attempts to win their votes.
The Conservatives, by contrast, can trade on their overall competence.
“They are not out to please people,” one swing voter told Ms Mattinson, and “that means they can just get on with it.”