What’s next for Labour’s strategy after Rochester?

In a week which would have seen former Labour PR spin doctor Alastair Campbell shake his head in disbelief, Ed Miliband has been handed a surprising lead in the opinion polls. 

The Labour leader is placed five points ahead of the Conservatives in the latest weekly poll, commissioned by Conservative Peer Lord Ashcroft. The Conservatives sit in second place on 27 per cent and have lost 2 per cent of support to UKIP (18 per cent) according the latest poll. 

All the coverage. All the wrong reasons.

This news will come as a surprise to many considering it was another week of embarrassment for Ed Miliband and his party following the Rochester and Strood by-election. While his party admitted from the outset that they had little to no chance of winning the contest, the sacking of the then Shadow Attorney General Emily Thornberry just hours before the announcement of who had won the battle put the party at the forefront of coverage. 

The headlines should have been all about the Conservatives losing to UKIP and Nigel Farage and his party gaining a second seat in Parliament but instead the focus was shifted onto the Labour Party and the debate whether it is still the party for the working people. 

Emily Thornberry’s tweet, a photograph of a house draped in England flags with a white van parked outside, caused outrage on Twitter, with many perceiving it to be a tweet of snobbery. For most an apology from the Islington South and Finsbury MP would have sufficed but in the age of social media, a once inconspicuous move – cost her job and what should have been a pain free night for the Labour Party. 

In an attempt to show his strength, Ed Miliband sacked Thornberry, allowing for the sorry event to drag on much longer than it needed to. The sacking of Thornberry was an overreaction, a move which meant the public have had to endure days of Miliband claiming he ‘respects the white van man’ and yet somehow, he appears to have come out of the week relatively unscathed. 

Of course, it’s much more to do with UKIP gaining two points from the Conservatives rather than the Labour Party racing ahead at their own accord but nevertheless, there is a platform for Miliband to build on. 

No support for Ed

However, the Lord Ashcroft poll revealed that Miliband still had a lot of work to do persuade voters of his leadership credentials:  out of 500 people asked whether they saw Miliband or David Cameron in charge come May 2015 – only 23 per cent backed the Labour Leader, while 59 per cent said they expected the current PM to remain in charge. 

More worrying for Ed Miliband is that out of the Labour supporters who were asked whether he would be the next leader only 44 per cent backed him: 43 per cent said David Cameron. 

It’s clear that there are still questions over Ed Miliband even from his own supporters and as Miliband flapped around on Thursday evening trying to contain the damage from Thornberry’s tweet (and inexplicably just making it worse) Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham was giving a polished performance on BBC’s Newsnight, further enhancing his credentials as the next Labour Leader. 

It’s not going to get any easy for Miliband in the run up to the general election but he’s ahead in the polls and needs to make sure he builds on the fine margins, after all that is what will win this election.

What do you think? What should be Ed Miliband’s strategy going into the campaign for the election? Have your say in the comments section below.