2011: Labour's year

By Gary O'Donoghue
Political correspondent, BBC News

media captionLabour's highlights of 2011

Ed Miliband's year was book-ended with by-election victories.

There was Oldham East and Saddleworth in January - after a court overturned Labour's win at the general election - and Feltham and Heston this month, with an increased vote share.

The party took charge of a minority government in Wales as well.

But there was a crushing result in the Scottish Parliamentary elections - Labour lost half their constituency seats as Alex Salmond's SNP took power with an outright majority.

Having launched his leadership with the idea of championing the so-called squeezed middle, Mr Miliband's big idea of 2011 was the "promise of Britain" - that each generation would do better than the previous one.

Not quite the American Dream, but definitely an attempt at the vision thing.

It tried to strike an optimistic tone but as economic woes piled up, few were ready to be cheered up.

He also used his party conference speech to define himself even further - raising a cheer at the distance he put between himself and the past, when he told delegates: "I'm not Tony Blair."

Union heckles

But performances at Prime Minister's Question time - a weekly pressure point for all leaders - were not always to hit the mark.

Mr Miliband's victory over his brother David more than a year ago has dogged his leadership as David Cameron continues to use it against him.

Brothers of another kind were also to cause the Labour leader a headache.

His refusal to back strikes by public sector workers over pensions in June and November angered trade unionists - many of whom had helped him win the leadership - and led to heckles at the TUC conference.

Not all family relationships were troublesome however - in May, Mr Miliband wed his long term partner Justine. There was no best man, though big brother David did attend.

Two Eds

Another undoubted high point for the Labour leader was his stance on phone hacking.

image captionIt was a big year for Mr Miliband as he married his long term partner Justine

His calls for the resignation of News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks - and an inquiry into the whole affair - were taken up by David Cameron, and the Labour Party began to feel their new leader was finding his voice.

However, his distinctively nasal tones were not the reason, said his advisers, for Mr Miliband having surgery for sleep apnoea in the summer.

An early reshuffle was forced on the Labour leader when he brought his leadership rival, Ed Balls, in as shadow chancellor after the resignation of Alan Johnson.

The wags were ready with their phrase - two Eds are always better than one.

But the economic message - the five point plan - took time to get a hearing, and eventually boiled down to the more effective political slogan: It's hurting but it's not working.

The problem for Mr Miliband is that despite all the economic woes - the uncertainty, rising unemployment, growth almost at a standstill - his party's poll ratings have been slipping, with some recent surveys putting the Conservatives ahead.

If that is not turned round, then the whisperings of discontent about Mr Miliband's leadership are likely to begin again.

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