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Tories shocked by Ed Miliband's performance (when I spoke to them at 4pm) are now rediscovering their confidence

By Tim Montgomerie
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i've been working the phones tonight to try and establish genuine Tory reaction to Ed Miliband's speech. There was first surprise, even anxious amazement. As the evening has worn on there's less worry.

The reaction can be summarised under two headings: (1) He's now safe as Labour leader and (2) He's as beatable as he was yesterday.

On (1) the view is that Ed Miliband was very unlikely to be replaced as Labour leader before he spoke without notes. Now it's certain he won't be replaced. In other words, said one of my sources, there'll be no Darling, no woman leader or no leader from the new generation. That suits Conservatives, they said.

On (2) my sources reiterated the attack plan I disclosed last Monday. Labour will be attacked for planning a tax bombshell because they won't control debt. Labour will be attacked for being on the wrong side of the immigration, welfare and crime questions. Third, Labour will be attacked for being unable to take tough decisions. Are any of those three attacks less potent than they were yesterday? No, no, not really.

***

Two final thoughts:
  • One of the last times I was in Manchester (for a political event rather than a football match) was the first election (ITN) debate when Clegg stormed to national celebrity. The Clegg bubble almost completely burst within the month. Will today's Miliband bubble burst? Probably yes. Don't judge opinion polls this weekend, my sources are saying, but in a month. They're predicting they won't be much different. We now know Mr M can memerise a speech but is he any better in the more important TV ones-to-ones? No.
  • Finally Miliband does not need to be good to become PM, only acceptable. Labour only need to keep most of Clegg's unhappy left-leaning voters and for UKIP to grow to about 5% to win. Both of those things are still more likely than not. Labour are rightly favourites to win the next election unless the Tories can find a game-changer... but that was true before Mr Miliband spoke and is still true now.

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