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Alistair Thompson: Rochester may be bad for Dave, but it is even grimmer for Ed


As Ed Miliband prepares to deliver what some commentators are describing as a make or break speech, Labour’s big beasts are rallying round the embattled party leader.

The biggest of them, Andy Burnham, the most likely successor to Red Ed, popped up on the Today programme this morning to extoll his leader’s virtues.

At the same time, John McTernan provided commentary and insight into Labour’s thinking in The Times. Writing in this morning’s Red Box email, the former adviser to Tony Blair, says, and I paraphrase, Ed Miliband will make an incredible speech assuaging any doubts and then the Tories would be rocked by the loss of Rochester and Strood.

The most interesting insight is the latter – a belief that losing Rochester to Ukip will some how lead to a chain reaction causing the Conservatives to implode. It will not.

Tory high command have already priced the loss of this seat into the campaign grid and are moving on.

We know this for two reasons. First, the decision to hold the vote on the European Arrest Warrant and second the energy of the early part of the Rochester campaign has evaporated. Even the half-hearted plea from the Prime Minister to Lib Dem and Labour voters to back the Conservative candidate smacked of resignation to the inevitable – a second Ukip MP.

Although any belief has gone that in this Medway seat, the blue barricades will stop the Ukip surge, Lynton Crosby and Co will take comfort from the latest poll for Lord Ashcroft predicting the seat will return to the Tories in 2015.

As long as results are close, within 10 per cent, the Conservative Party will emerge on Friday 21st relatively undamaged. The bigger questions surround Labour.

Many on the Left think that this seat deep in Tory territory is staunch blue – They are wrong.

Rochester is the ultimate political bell-weather seat and its electorate has a remarkable knack in general elections of choosing an MP who turns out to be on the winning side.

Prior to Mark Reckless was the clubbable Bob Marshall Andrews (Labour), 1997-2010. Before Mr Andrews, the charming Dame Peggy Fenner (Conservative) held the seat between 1979-1997; prior to that Robert Bean (Labour) 1974-1979, and before him, back to Dame Peggy.

Even further back, Rochester was picking the winner of the general election. Labour’s Anne Kerr held the seat from 1964-1970 and prior to that Conservative Julian Critchley 1959-1964.

So far from the impenetrable Tory stronghold that Labour’s spin-doctors would have you believe.

The big question on the 21st November will not be what happened to the Conservative vote, but what happened to Labour’s?

Already the Ed Miliband is increasingly finding himself either neck and neck or behind in the opinions polls. Last night’s Evening Standard’s Ipos/Mori survey was just another good example, finding Labour trailing three points on a dismal 29 per cent, while a poll earlier in the week in the Daily Mail gave the hapless Labour leader an approval rating of -44. The lowest approval rating of any party leader six months before an election.

In fact, he has a worse approval rating that even Michael Foot in 1982 (-38) and Sir John Major in 1996 (-18).

While there are still a few sizeable hurdles that Mr Cameron faces, not least holding an actual vote on the EAW and the ever-present spectre of further defections, it is the Labour leader who has more to lose next week in Rochester.

And if, as the surveys suggest, Labour will only poll in the mid-teens in Rochester, it is a disaster for Ed Miliband, because this is a level that ensures this seat will not return a Labour MP in just six months time. And, given the constituency’s knack of picking winners, it suggests Labour has not got a chance of winning in 2015.

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Alistair Thompson
Alistair Thompson
Alistair Thompson is a political campaigner and director of Team Britannia PR.

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