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Nadine Dorries MP

Nadine Dorries MP: Ed Miliband is still a mystery opponent - to underestimate him would be foolish

And we're off. This conference season marks the "just past the half way stage" of the electoral cycle and this is where it all becomes interesting once again. We will take the fight to Labour with our "Labour isn't learning" poster and Ed Milliband will bring it back to us in his conference speech.

This Labour conference, and the ensuing media coverage to be harvested from it, is incredibly important to Labour, for no other reason than many people still don't know who Ed Milliband is. We do. Anyone reading this blog, who watches Question Time or Marr on Sunday and has more than a passing interest in political affairs, does. But a large swathe of the British public simply has no idea.

This was highlighted to me recently when a Cambridge-educated doctor asked me "who is the competition? Who is the leader of the Labour party now?" At a surgery last week, a constituent said "you know, I don't even know who has taken over, has Brown gone altogether?". Up until now, Ed Milliband has been suffering from a deficit of television and newsprint coverage. It has appeared as though the media have struggled to accept that he and not his brother David (mean, lean friend of Hilary Clinton and thereby more interesting to write about) won the leadership election. It is possibly still a fact that David, who when in office, had a high profile ministerial role, is for now still the better known of the two.

When Ed Milliband was elected as party leader in 2010, I commented that he really shouldn't be underestimated and I find the assumed complacency embodied in the words "the greatest gift to the Conservative party is Ed Milliband" frustrating. The Westminster elite know how Ed performs at PMQs, but we don't yet know how, with enhanced media coverage, he is going to play out in front of the British public and, in the meantime, the Labour party still enjoys a frighteningly large lead in the polls.

When the online pollsters gather information regarding public opinion of Ed, people are commenting on the basis of very little to go on. The ticks placed in boxes are done so with minimal information. The fact that six out of ten can't see him as a Prime Minister means nothing when they don't see very much of him at all. Ed Milliband is still a rapidly developing, and to many, unknown quantity. And what is worse, he is genuinely an extremely kind and really nice guy. People are shortly going to notice this for themselves and may feel that the distorted, left-wing policies which got the country into such a mess don't sound so bad when coming from such a nice man.

Polls reveal that Conservatives are trusted on the big issues, such as welfare reform - but in the recent Times (£) survey published this weekend, that lead is dramatically diminishing. Other polls tell us that people feel a greater "connection" to Ed Milliband than to Cameron. That word, "connection" should carry one humongous, red flashing warning light above it for us Conservatives. People won't vote for a party if they don't feel they can connect with its leader. 

According to the Times survey, Ed's rating is improving and he is more highly rated than at any time of his leadership. It may be the case that when his exposure and profile have reached the point most leaders of the opposition enjoy, public opinion turns the wrong way for Labour and the right way for us. 

But for now, Ed Milliband is still the mystery opponent. To underestimate him would be utterly foolish. The British public may decide he's too weak and not for them or, alternatively, they may embrace his warm, just a normal man in the street, down to earth manner. We really shouldn't forget that he still has everything to play for and we have the Liberal Democrats to lose.


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