Ed Miliband is heading for No 10 whether people like him or not
New poll of Conservative marginals adds to growing belief that Labour can win an outright majority
IT IS fanciful in the extreme to compare Ed Miliband with Barack Obama. Miliband is no orator: he succeeded in blocking David Cameron's Syria initiative despite a poor speech in the preceding Commons debate. His address to the TUC last week was similarly underwhelming.
But Miliband is doing what Obama did - he is winning in the right places.
Obama was returned to the White House with a thumping vote in the US Electoral College because he carried virtually all the swing states including Florida and Ohio.
And because Labour is doing much better in marginal seats than it is doing in national polls, Ed could be heading for 10 Downing Street in the 2015 general election - despite the derision he's been subjected to by Labour's elder statesmen and in the press.
That is the message of a new poll of the Conservatives' 40 most marginal seats just released by Lord Ashcroft.
It's a curious fact of this strange summer that to receive any encouragement, Miliband has to look outside his own party. Step forward Lord Ashcroft - once dubbed Lord Cashcroft for the generous way he bankrolled the Tory party. His disillusionment with David Cameron for failing to deliver an outright Tory victory in 2010 was palpable. Now he pays for regular polls with large samples which are eagerly awaited by political number-crunchers.
The two key messages from his latest poll are that UKIP continues to be a drag on Cameron's support and that Liberal Democrat supporters in the key Tory-Labour marginals, where the general election will be decided, are willing to vote tactically against the Conservatives.
Another source of comfort for Miliband comes from Mike Smithson of Political Betting, a must-read website for polling anoraks. He makes the point that although Labour's lead over the Conservatives has fluctuated, Labour's own poll ratings have been remarkably consistent in the 38-40 per cent range (while the Tories are in the low 30s).
Since its abysmal performance in 2010 under Gordon Brown, the party led by Ed Miliband has added about eight points to its rating, almost entirely thanks to Lib Dems disillusioned with Nick Clegg's role in the coalition government switching to Labour.
Another point Smithson makes is that, despite his One Nation rhetoric, Miliband has failed to win over more than a handful of voters who backed the Tories in 2010. But that weakness is also a strength. It makes Miliband largely immune to a Cameron fightback. And by tracking to the right to counter the UKIP threat Cameron, may be confirming the LibDem switchers in their allegiance to Labour.
Where does all this take us? The website Electoral Calculus now puts the chances of an outright Labour victory in 2015 at around 75 per cent. The chances of a Tory overall majority, on the same measure, is estimated at just five per cent.
In terms of seats, Electoral Calculus - which used similar methods to Nate Silver, the American number-cruncher who accurately foresaw Obama's re-election - is predicting: Labour 358, Con 238, Lib Dems 23 (a horrible drop from 57 at the 2012 general election), UKIP 0, the rest 31. That gives Labour an overall majority of 66.
In the short term, the return to economic growth, however anaemic, has put a spring in Tory steps. David Cameron and George Osborne have spun the daily ration of positive economic data with relish.
The Labour riposte - that it's living standards rather than economic indices that matter - has seemed hesitant at times. Yet the noises coming out of both the Tory and Lib Dem camps about the need for an increase in the national minimum wage suggest that some members of the coalition are concerned that the Labour arguments will have traction with voters.
Whether the Labour gloom persists will depend on how Miliband handles two key events: his party conference speech in just over a week's time and the boldness (or otherwise) of his widely flagged Shadow Cabinet reshuffle.
Miliband may turn out to be a terrible Prime Minister, which according to the polls is what a majority of voters expect. But the message of the polls is that the current Labour gloom is overdone - he has every chance of reaching Downing Street with a majority.
- The author is a former BBC lobby correspondent and Labour Party press officer who will be watching the polls for The Week in the run-up to the 2015 general election.