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Miliband puts his party back in the game

If Boris wins London tonight (as still seems likely), the Tories will no doubt claim that Ed Miliband hasn't been as successful as he should have been today. But that's not really fair. I'd say a more accurate assessment is that he looks bang on track.

Labour leader Ed Miliband in Victoria Square, Birmingham Credit: Rui Vieira/PA Wire

It's true that it hasn't been a sweeping victory and that opposition parties have done better in mid-term elections in the past. But Labour was only kicked out of office a couple of years ago, its economic strategy in tatters. And yet here it is unarguably back in the game. That's a pretty reasonable achievement for a new party leader.

The question, of course, as ever, is how much this matters. The answer is that it is important for morale, momentum and narrative, but is only a small staging process. The reality is that the economy probably will be recovering by 2015 (and if it isn't, we might as well all pack up and leave). In this event, the Tories will be saying over and over again 'don't give the keys back to the guys who crashed the car.' Even if we feel that the Tories could have handled the economy better, the Labour party's reputation for poor fiscal management may still act as a drag on its prospects.

Labour leader Ed Miliband meets PC McSharry in Victoria Square, Birmingham Credit: Rui Vieira/PA Wire

Ed Miliband's key staff are fully aware of this and how to deal with it remains an area of lively debate internally (I don't think, for example, it is an absolute given that Ed Balls will remain in his current post, even though the inner circle rate him very highly). The decision to talk about a crisis in capitalism in last year's conference speech was an attempt to get around this question by opening up a different front.

So if the question at the next election is 'who do you want to run the recovery?' they intend to try and twist it towards 'how do you want the proceeds of growth to be distributed?'

Labour leader Ed Miliband with Labour Group leader Sir Albert Bore Credit: Rui Vieira/PA Wire

Their argument is that the last boom simply made the rich richer and they want the next to benefit the rest of us.

It's a potentially appealing strategy, which should give them a distinctive voice, especially if they can firmly implant in the public mind the notion that Cameron and Osborne are simply in government to represent the rich (a tactic that seems to be going rather well).

So, this doesn't mean they are going to win. It will be a dog fight and on the economy and leadership, Labour has not yet entirely answered the sceptics. But I think today shows the party is firmly back in the race.

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