In the race for Number 10, it's Miliband who has the fresher legs

Written by Kevin Maguire on 13 April 2015 in Opinion
Labour's campaign has been suprisingly professional and recent days have proved that Ed Miliband can win this election

Election campaigns are gruelling marathons rather than swift sprints and 2015 promises to be an uncertain battle of attrition all the way to May 7 when somebody will stumble over the finishing line into Downing Street.

Tipping the winner is a mug's game with three weeks to go and the leading pair neck and neck in a contest that is more perspiration than inspiration, neither seemingly able to make the decisive break.

What the past 10 days have proved, however, is that Ed Miliband can win this and David Cameron could lose it.

The athlete with the smile and the fresher legs is in the red vest. The runner in the blue top is suddenly huffing and puffing, struggling to keep his stride.

I know anything could happen over the course of the next 23 days. Nobody saw Gillian Duffy coming from the shops five years ago. Or John Prescott connecting with a voter in Rhyl in 2010.

Further back in history Harold Wilson was confident Ted Heath wouldn't cause him trouble in 1970. How wrong Wilson was before Heath was wrong four years later and he had his revenge.

We know there are bound to be trips and slips. But after the Labour manifesto launch and before the Tories show their hand, the initiative is undoubtedly with Labour.

There have been two big surprises. The first is the professionalism of Labour. Miliband was always going to see his approval ratings rise. The Tories expected it. That's why Cameron wouldn't go into the TV arena for a gladiatorial fight to the death. Labour's stylishness is the abolition of non-dom status to paint Miliband as the champion of fairness and Cameron the defender of vested interests.

The deficit declaration may be dismissed as unwisely late by critics(my own doubts focus on the lack of ambition of shoestring socialism) yet it deflects Tory attacks in an election where 1% this way or that might be the difference between victory and defeat.

The second surprise is the opposite of the first, namely the unprofessionalism of the Conservatives. Imitating Harry Enfield's Loadsamoney, waving fistfuls of money when the going got tough, smacks of panic. Lynton Crosby, billed as a genius, needs to do a lot better to earn a fat bonus. Finding £8bn to fund the NHS would be a start.

The leader with most reasons to smile is Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP the only party nailed on to finish with many times more seats. Nick Clegg keeps smiling and Nigel Farage continues drinking pints, and Lib Dems and Ukip may play pivotal roles in trading from May 8, but neither sets this campaign alight.

I'm ignoring the Guardian ICM poll giving the Conservatives a 6% lead. It's an inaccurate outlier until reinforced by others, which it isn't. I recall the same paper and company produced a similarly misleading poll in 1997, finding the Conservatives just 5% behind Labour 10 days before John Major led the Tories to their worst defeat since Waterloo, Tony Blair securing a 179-seat majority.

Individual polls give comfort to the side shown on the up when a poll of polls is more reliable and they find the contest is tight.

So who'll win? As I said, it's a mug's game but it would be prudent to prepare for change because it feels marginally likelier now than a fortnight ago.


Kevin Maguire is associate editor(politics) of the Daily Mirror

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