For some time now, at least eighteen months, received wisdom in Westminster is that the following things were almost certainly true in regards to the general election: one, there is going to be another hung parliament. Two, that the Tories would emerge as the largest party again. There seemed to be too many factors going the Conservative Party’s way for it to be otherwise: the economy on the mend, Miliband’s unpopularity, the price of oil. Everything seemed to setting the stage for the Tories to come out ahead of Labour, even if a majority seemed a stretch too far.
However, here we sit on April 11th and you’d have to say objectively that the person most likely to be prime minister after May 7th is Ed Miliband. For clarity, I was firmly in the “David Cameron will definitely be PM after the election” camp myself until very, very recently, so this isn’t a line I’ve been pushing and feel the need to vindicate. It’s just what I’m seeing play out in front of me.
First off, the polls. While the Guardian were typically hyperbolic yesterday (“The Day the Polls Turned”, on a day when YouGov actually had the Tories one point up), truth is the polls are very bad for the Tories. This is because they need to be way ahead of Labour in order just to be the largest party in a hung parliament again – while Labour can achieve the same feat just by being evens with the Conservatives. As I’ve been saying of late, there still could be a late swing to the Tories. But time is starting to run out.
Secondly, the Tories’ campaign has gone from having started badly to now being in danger of being a notably historically rubbish campaign full stop a la Labour in 2010. Sure, there have been no Duffy-gate style epic gaffes yet – however, a series of mini-own goals, now coming most days, are killing them. Fallon’s needless personal attack on Miliband on Thursday was the quintessential moment of the Conservative campaign so far: it diverted the story from the one they wanted to run, namely that Labour were weak on defence and could be railroaded into not renewing Trident via the SNP, to the one that actually did run, which was the nature of the personal attack itself. Miliband got to play the grownup statesman in response and didn’t have to worry too much about the substance of the Trident questions as that had simply become background noise. It also made the Tories look nasty, which is exactly what they need to avoid.
Then we come to yesterday, which was almost as bad. The thing the Tories ran with? Ed Miliband slept with smart, attractive women previous to meeting his wife. This may well be the worst attempted smear story in the history of democracy. So, people see Ed as weird and out of touch, right? The Tories think the way to embed that in people’s minds is to make Ed look cool, suave and alpha male. Genius. There wasn’t even any infidelity involved. Pardon my bluntness here, but what the hell are the Tories thinking? They are taking the public’s perception of Miliband and transforming it, making Ed look like a cool yet ruthless (the stuff about David and the leadership campaign), able to pull attractive, interesting women to boot. My first thought when I saw the headlines about his “womanising” was: “Wow, maybe Ed Miliband is a lot cooler than I thought.” And I’ve met the guy, for God’s sake. I can only imagine what the man on the streets thinks.
I’m not going to say that Miliband’s got the premiership in the bag – there’s a long way to go yet. But if the Tories don’t improve quickly, they may just lose the election for him, gifting Miliband a route into power.