Ed Miliband makes fewer mid-term gains than William Hague but Britain has only swallowed 15% of the Coalition's medicine
By Tim Montgomerie
Follow Tim on Twitter
So were the results good for Ed Miliband? He certainly won more council seats than Conservatives expected him to win. Labour certainly performed better than I expected. But are they an indication that Ed Miliband is heading to Number 10? Grant Shapps suggests no, tweeting: "Two years into the Labour govt Hague made a far more impressive 1,300 gains. EdM might note that William never actually became PM!" But Ed Miliband doesn't have to make anywhere near as much progress as Hague had to do. Hague started with 165 MPs. Miliband begins with 258. The Labour percentage of the vote has been boosted by the defection of two million or more ex-Lib Dem voters. These left-leaning voters will not quickly vote Yellow again after seeing Nick Clegg do a deal with the 'evil Tories'. Labour goes into the election with 34% to 36% locked up - not so far away from being the largest party.
And if Labour don't face such an uphill struggle as Hague, IDS, Howard or Cameron did, I'm not sure that the Coalition can look forward to gentler slopes itself. We may be in the mid-term of a parliament but the Government's work is not half-done. It's not close to being half-done. Only 15% of the austerity measures have bitten. The biggest and least pleasant welfare cuts are still to come. According to the Prime Minister we're not even halfway through the €urozone's crisis. The NHS reforms are still around the corner. The Coalition's rose garden moments are behind it.
Some big things could, of course, get better. Growth might resume. Inflation might subside. The boundary review, a focus on defeating Lib Dem MPs and a reunification of the Eurosceptic vote might all happen. It may also be the case that in difficult times voters will prefer George Osborne and David Cameron over Ed Balls and Ed Miliband as economic managers (they do at the moment by 36% to 28%). My overall sense remains that we need a game-changer to win the next election, however, and that, while Ed Miliband may be a liability for his party, his party is back in power in Harlow, Southampton, Plymouth and Reading as well as recovering in Scotland and dominant again in Wales. As I've argued before, there is a distinction between underestimating Ed Miliband and underestimating Labour.