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The Political Pulse

Latest opinion research and analysis

Tories should focus on PM Ed Miliband

The local elections, along with the London Assembly elections, were an unmitigated triumph for Ed Miliband’s Labour Party. If the councils won in 2011 looked like a list of areas no-one believed Labour could ever lose – the Leedses, Newcastles, and Hulls of this world, where the vast majority of parliamentary seats are Labour strongholds – the list of 2012 gains looked like a victory tour of the seats Ed Miliband needs to win to enter Downing Street.

In Swindon, for instance, though Labour failed to take the council, they actually polled 5% more than the Conservatives. In Eastern England, where the regional Labour Party returned just the two Luton MPs in 2010, they pulled off a surprise win in Great Yarmouth, which sits 73rd on their target list and Harlow, 83rd. It will also be interesting to note, when the full data is released, how many of the outer London marginals were ‘won’ by Labour at Assembly level.

Ed Miliband’s dectractors will argue that Neil Kinnock had better election results, only to be thwarted. But Mr Kinnock was never so close to Number 10, with Labour entering the 1992 election with 30 fewer seats than Mr Miliband now enjoys and John Major with 70 more than Mr Cameron. Moreover, much as it is difficult to see a mass Ed movement pushing him towards the premiership, François Hollande’s uncharismatic victory over Nicolas Sarkozy shows all it takes to win is for the other guy to lose.

The big difference between the 2011 and 2012 results, however, was the return of the phenomenon that so hampered the Conservatives from Black Wednesday to well into the Cameron leadership: the stay-at-home Tory. In seat after seat across Middle England, the Labour vote increased marginally, with the Conservative share collapsing. In the now famous Sutton Vesey ward of Birmingham, not held by Labour since 1945, the party increased its vote by 113, while the Conservatives collapsed by a staggering 1,438.

What can be done to turn back this worrying tide? Some Conservative strategists suggest an in-out referendum on the EU on the same day as the next election may prove successful. There is significant evidence that Conservative turnout was kept artificially high last year, as their voters came out in droves against the destested Alternative Vote, simultaneously boosting the fortunes of council candidates. This technique, though wholly accidental in 2011, is long-practised habit in the USA.

For most, however, Ed Miliband’s success itself provides the answer. Much as voters say, for the first time, they would prefer ‘a Labour government led by Ed Miliband’ to a ‘Conservative government led by David Cameron’ by 6 points (a fact that should terrify CCHQ), Mr Cameron still leads the Labour leader on the simple question of ‘best Prime Minister’ by 10 points.

 

If election wins and poll leads bring this latter prospect into ever starker reality, Mr Cameron may have a more concrete argument of exactly why his supporters should come to the polls. “Prime Minister Ed Miliband?” will be the question every Conservative strategist tries to ask.