If you had said six months ago that Ed Miliband would be schooling Boris Johnson on live television two weeks before the election, even Justine would have raised an eyebrow. Yet that is exactly what the Labour leader did on the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, comprehensively beating the man who he could feasibly be facing across the despatch box as Prime Minister in just a few weeks’ time.
Miliband’s transformation in the last two months has been nothing short of remarkable. At the beginning of this year it seemed utterly implausible that the British electorate would entrust this man, who was a laughing stock even among much of his own party, with the keys to Downing Street. Tory punches aimed at his weirdness and his weakness were landing. In the polls, voters preferred David Cameron by a considerable margin.
Yet, nine days before polling day, Miliband is ultimately the bookies’ favourite to win the race to Number 10. It isn’t enough, as Labour spinners claim, to explain this extraordinary turnaround simply as Miliband having been underestimated by his opponents. They had the measure of the man right at the time. Since then, even in the last few weeks, something has changed.
Miliband was the clear winner in the first leaders’ interview with Jeremy Paxman. It was by no means a perfect performance. That “hell yes I’m tough enough” moment was painfully cringeworthy. But overall he held his own against the toughest inquisitor around, at times even successfully patronising Paxo. By contrast, an uncharacteristically nervous Cameron struggled.
Miliband was comfortable, if uninspiring, in the seven-way leaders’ debate. He didn’t crumble under assault from the left in the challengers’ debate. He was quite amiable in his soft interview with Evan Davis. Crucially, the moment of implosion that seemed inevitable, a Kinnock-esque slip betraying his personal unsuitability as a leader, hasn’t come. Yet.
Labour has been beating the Conservatives on the campaign side of things too. Time and time again Miliband’s left-wing populism has been winning the news agenda. According to a YouGov poll out today, the Tories have failed to win a single day of the so-called ‘air war’.
Labour’s headline policy announcements on non-doms and rent controls would, most economists agree, do more harm than good to the British economy. But they are crowd-pleasers that make the public believe Labour is on their side. Economically, it’s disastrous. Strategically, it’s good politics.
Last week Miliband even dared to venture into the realm of foreign policy, unthinkable for a Labour leader since Iraq, and the first leader of any party to do so this election. One of the Tories’ strongest implied attack lines on Miliband has been that he could not stand up for Britain’s interests abroad. As the likes of Greg Hands and Nick Boles have asked, “could he cope with Putin?”. Yet there was an almost Blair-ish arrogance about him speaking among fellow wonks at Chatham House. A smugness that some will find almost punchable, but which a Prime Minister absolutely needs.
The Miliband of today is a different proposition to that of last year. No longer is it unthinkable that he could cross the threshold to Number 10. That he could stand alongside Obama and Merkel at the G7. The danger for the Tories is that because of the vast improvement in Miliband’s personal performance, and the very low point from which he began, voters forget who he really is.An ideological left-winger who was at the heart of the Treasury during the financial crisis. Whose policies would risk the future success of the economy. Who can govern only with the support of people who want to tear the country apart. If he can convince the electorate to forget all of that, there is little Cameron and the Tories can do