UK Politics

First 100 days: How Miliband compares to past leaders

Ed Miliband

Ed Miliband this week marked 100 days as Labour leader. The party is riding high in opinion polls but critics, including some Labour figures, say he's not making a big enough impact. First impressions are crucial in modern politics, but a look back at the first 100 days of 12 Labour and Tory leaders suggests they are not always a reliable guide to future prospects...


The biggest complaint about Margaret Thatcher, 100 days after winning control of the Conservative Party in February 1975, was that she was too timid. In a scathing editorial, headlined The Lady Vanishes, The Sun said "she has been driving a growing number of Tory MPs to quiet despair by her half-heartedness about taking up a frontline position in the economic war". She was also attacked for declaring an effective truce with Labour during the referendum campaign on Britain's membership of the EEC. What happened next: Won 1979 election, prime minister until 1990. First 100 days: Margaret Thatcher


"Sunny Jim" received an almost universal thumbs up from the press after 100 days as Labour leader and prime minister. Commentators praised his calming influence and straight talking approach. But with no working majority, his government was expected to be short-lived and speculation was rife about a snap election. It was widely expected Mr Callaghan would win, with Mrs Thatcher's Conservatives seen as weak and ineffective. What happened next: Lost 1979 election First 100 days: James Callaghan


Michael Foot got off to a disastrous start as Labour leader, losing a battle with the unions over the selection of future leaders and failing to control the bitter war with the hard left that was threatening to tear the party apart. He was, arguably, in an impossible situation. But as he passed the 100 day mark, in early 1981, commentators were in no mood to spare his feelings. "There has been a kind of hectic feebleness about his every move which is beginning to awaken pity rather than anger," wrote his former newspaper, the Evening Standard, beneath the headline "Let's Admit It: Foot's a Disaster". What happened next: Labour suffered crushing defeat in 1983 election. First 100 days: Michael Foot


Could do better was the verdict of many pundits on Neil Kinnock's first 100 days as Labour leader, in late 1983. He was "a vast improvement on what went before," noted the Sunday Times, but, echoing a common complaint about the loquacious Welshman, he "talks too much when he has nothing to say". Hugo Young, in The Guardian, praised Mr Kinnock for steadying the Labour ship and claimed that what most pundits had seen as a negative, his lack of focus on policy detail, was a shrewd move. What happened next: Leader for nine years - but lost 1987 and 1992 elections. First 100 days: Neil Kinnock


"Mr Major emerges from his hundred days the best-loved prime minister in living memory," wrote Peter Jenkins in The Independent in early 1991. The new Conservative prime minister was widely praised his for steady, statesmanlike handling of the Gulf conflict and the aftermath of the IRA's failed mortar attack on Downing Street. And while his first 100 days had not exactly been a blur of activity, the Conservatives had edged ahead in the opinion polls wiping out Labour's previous nine-point lead. What happened next: Pulled off surprise victory in 1992 election, but hammered in 1997. First 100 days: John Major


The press were in a restless mood as John Smith celebrated his first 100 days as Labour leader in the autumn of 1992. He was failing to land enough blows on a chaotic and divided Conservative government, most pundits reckoned. He was accused of "coasting" and of being "dangerously complacent". "Though there is no doubting his courage, both his boxing skill and his punching power are questionable," wrote Alan Watkins in The Observer. What happened next: Died in 1994. First 100 days: John Smith


With a 17 point opinion poll lead over the Conservatives, and glowing plaudits from the press, everything was going swimmingly for Tony Blair as he reached his first 100 days as Labour leader in the autumn of 1994. Even a party conference defeat over scrapping Clause IV of the party's constitution - a battle he would go on to win the following year - and a shadow cabinet election which left many of Labour's old guard in place failed to dent his momentum. There was some sniping from the press about the high moral tone of his first conference speech, as he sought to contrast Labour with the "sleazy" Tories. What happened next: Won 1997, 2001 and 2005 elections before standing down in 2007. First 100 days: Tony Blair


The knives were out for William Hague from the moment he was elected Conservative leader in June 1997. In-fighting over Europe and sniping from the party's old guard, still reeling at the drubbing they had received at the polls, ensured he had one of the shortest honeymoon periods of any party leader in history. He did not help his cause by being pictured in a baseball cap on a trip to a theme park - an image that came to define his doomed attempt to rebrand the Conservatives as a more youthful force. What happened next: Quit as leader after defeat in 2001 election, now Foreign Secretary First 100 Days: William Hague


With the Conservatives at a low ebb after their second successive election defeat, the right wing press did their best to focus on the positive as they ran a rule over the largely unknown Iain Duncan Smith's first 100 days as party leader. But there were also signs of the sort of personal criticism and sniping that would bring his leadership to a premature, and bitter, end. "The frog in his throat has a long way to go before it can hope to turn into prince," noted The Times, in a jointly authored piece by Mr Duncan Smith's future cabinet colleague Michael Gove and Tom Baldwin, Ed Miliband's newly-appointed communications chief. What happened next: Forced out as leader in November 2003. First 100 Days: Iain Duncan Smith


He may not be loved by Tory activists or MPs but "he simply looks like a man who can do the job," noted Julia Hartley Brewer in the Sunday Express, in a piece marking Michael Howard's first 100 days as Conservative leader. There was a palpable sense of relief in the Conservative-supporting press about Mr Howard's business-like, disciplined leadership, after what was seen as the fiasco of the Duncan Smith years. But the opinion polls stubbornly refused to register the sort of lift-off in support needed if Mr Howard was going to win the 2005 election. What happened next: Stepped down after Tory defeat in 2005 election. First 100 days: Michael Howard


Not since Tony Blair had a new opposition leader enjoyed such positive media coverage. David Cameron's first 100 days as Tory leader, starting in December 2005, passed in a blur of headline grabbing activity. Previous Tory leaders had tried to project a more youthful image, or deliberately picked fights with the party's right wing, only to be met with disaster, but the media were hungry for a good news story about the Conservatives and "collaborated in portraying him as a winning guy in touch with the 21st century", noted Andrew Rawnsley, in The Observer. What happened next: Became Prime Minister in 2010 after forming coalition with Lib Dems. First 100 days: David Cameron


Gordon Brown's first 100 days were close to perfect, in the view of most pundits - even those who had been highly critical of him in the past. "Confounding his critics and defying his own character, Gordon Brown has, in fewer than 100 days, proved to be a vote-winner," said Tom Bower in The Evening Standard. As the 100 days ended the newspapers were full of reports that Labour was preparing for a snap election although the Conservatives had started to close in the polls. What happened next: Decided at the last minute against a snap election, led Labour to defeat in 2010 election. First 100 days: Gordon Brown

Here is a selection of your comments:

Once again the BBC is trying to drive public opinion by making Miliband minor look just as good as other opposition leaders at the same time in their careers. You cannot compare like with like. The political and economic circumstances are utterly different. Why no instead focus on the lack of distinct policy and also the studies silence from his former rivals for the job? At present Miliband minor is a stop-gap leader until his rivals can agree how to dump him. One member one vote? Give me a break. Paul, Bracknell

I have lived through the 100 days of new leaders since the sixties and never since seen so much fuss about it before in the media. It looks to me like a very subtle attack by means of drawing too much attention to what can only be very little for any new leader. Inspite of this in Ed Milliband's case, there is a lot to see, a very effective attack on the government. Expecting to see anymore is unrealistic. Sandra, Cambridge

There couldn't be a better time to be leader of the opposition, as it would be impossible for any government faced with our economic problems to be popular with the public when difficult decisions are needed. The fact Labour are riding high in the polls has nothing to do with them, or Mr Miliband, and everything to do with an unpopular government. But Mr Miliband is not taking real advantage as he still has nothing positive to say about how Labour would be doing things differently. At the moment Labour are simply throwing stones at the greenhouse, which is easy to do right now but will not wash with voters in the longer term. He needs to find some firm policy and quickly on the key issues, otherwise people will lose faith and view Labour as lacking ideas and credibility. I want an opposition that helps me imagine how things might be different and not one that simply tells me the government is doing the wrong thing. John, Rochdale

Interesting to note that your potted histories have omitted to include any mention of leaders of the Liberals in their various disguises/nametags. Is it that Nick Clegg has completely fallen off the popularity measuring scale The comments are unprintable or That his loyalty to his party which ever that may be is at present under review Is he a Conservative mole that infiltrated the Liberal leadership. If the coalition doesnot suceed/survive one wonders whether a Liberal party will survive in its present form. Labours leader may be doing the right thing in taking his time and not rushing in to print as his party may end up having to pick up the peices of the present experiment which may make the Credit Crunch pall in to insignificance. The coalition experiment has aims that may prove unachieveable and the results of failure may be extremely dire for all us excluding the Bankers and Company directors in receipt of mind bogling renumeration packages Peter, England

"The party is riding high in opinion polls..." I beg to differ. In most polls they have a very slight lead over the Tories, and often within the margin of error. Ed's first 100 days are most notable for the fact there was no 'bounce' in the polls at the start of his leadership - in fact he was sometimes slightly down on Harman. While we're at it, what's this obsession with the first 100 days? It seems a totally arbitrary number and, as you've said above in all your profiles, can prove utterly meaningless in determining their ultimate performance. Nick, Salisbury

It would be fascinating to include (say) Angela Merkel in a comparison like this (and maybe if there is one an equivalent of Ed Milliband). And likewise their predecessors and perhaps one or two other elected leaders who have faced contemporaneous national and international economic and political dilemmas. This would be far more telling than a largely nostalgic list of people, some of whom will already be unknown to the voters of today. Colin, Oxfordshire

Interesting, but I notice the no attempt made to hide the BBC's loyal adoration of Tony Blair. Thatcher had a similar record in winning elections, but the two further Conservative victories under her leadership are not even mentioned. Blair was one of the most divisive leaders this country has had and led it into two real wars (Iraq and Afghanistan) as well as a self-righteous intangible one (War on Terror) which has dragged the UK into decades of an unwinnable psychological conflict and completely eroded our record on civil liberties and human rights. BBC - please stop your hero-worship of Tony Blair K Nahar, London

It seems unrealistic to expect firm statements on every aspect of policy and do we really want to hear soundbites rather than well-considered policy positions after detailed reviews? I seem to recall Cameron et al having very little of much substance to say whilst in opposition and what they and the Lib Dems did say has turned out to be worthless if not flagrantly dishonest. If tories and lib dems can ditch their manifesto and make up new rules when they're in power, why expect Labour to fire from the hip when it is better to consult and reach an agreed stance for the next election. Ed is doing just fine and will grow in stature as more people realise that when he does say something it is considered and based on principles of decency and fairness. James, Hastings

It is far more important what a Prime Minister does in the first 100 days than a leader of the opposition. An opposition leader of a newly defeated party has to wait and stay silent to reassess where the party went wrong and then make policy proposals. If Ed Miliband moves to fast he will be his own worst enemy. He isn't doing too badly. But the job of leader of a newly defeated party is an extremely difficult one. James, Lymington