Ed Miliband speaks at the Scottish Labour conference on March 21, 2014 in Perth. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Is Ed Miliband a lucky general?

The party's visceral attacks on the Lib Dems show it is staking everything on a majority. 

I think it’s fair to say the latest Labour Party Election Broadcast (PEB) hasn’t received universal acclaim, with folk on all sides asking "what were they thinking of?"

I was fortunate enough to spend some years working side by side with the three partners who formed Lucky Generals, the ad agency that produced the broadcast for Labour. I can tell you that they are creative, accomplished and – most pertinently – highly intelligent individuals. Indeed, one of them has received more awards for advertising effectiveness than anyone else in the business.

So they won’t have produced that PEB on a whim because they thought it would be funny or out of creative indulgence. They’ll have produced it because it will deliver strategically against what they have been told are the Labour Party’s goals. And I think that probably tells us quite a lot about Labour’s 2015 general election strategy. That strategy is, to use a technical term from adland, "shit or bust"; or in political parlance, it’s the 35 per cent strategy.

As the political arithmetic under the constituency boundaries means Labour only needs to poll the 35 per cent it currently polls to win a majority (as opposed to 42 per cent for the Tories), Labour appears to have decided to hold on to what it's got. That PEB is designed to do two things to the Lib Dems. It tells disaffected voters from 2010 who have defected to Labour why they should stick with them. And it puts two fingers up to the Lib Dems in terms of any future coalition negotiations. Despite some evidence to the contrary, it seems Labour really still do resent the "Gordon has to go" red line put down by the Lib Dems in 2010.

But by basically now making it very difficult to see how the Lib Dems can ever now go into a coalition with the party responsible for that ad, Labour is saying "we must win a majority in 2015" – or decide to try and run a minority government.

The latter would probably last until autumn – when after a no confidence vote, the Tories, well-funded, basking in the difficulties thrown up by Labour running a minority government for six months and with a new leader (step forward, Boris) – will streak home again in a second general election. So, it all comes down to – can Labour win a majority at the first time of asking in May 2015?

Lucky Generals is named after the Napoleonic quote - "I have plenty of clever generals but just give me a lucky one". Ed Miliband must hope he is just such a lucky general. But to all those in the Lib Dems railing at the PEB and gnashing their teeth, can I suggest an alternative Napoleonic quote? "Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake."

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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Will Euroscepticism prove an unbeatable advantage in the Conservative leadership race?

Conservative members who are eager for Brexit are still searching for a heavyweight champion - and they could yet inherit the earth.

Put your money on Liam Fox? The former Defence Secretary has been given a boost by the news that ConservativeHome’s rolling survey of party members preferences for the next Conservative leader. Jeremy Wilson at BusinessInsider and James Millar at the Sunday Post have both tipped Fox for the top job.

Are they right? The expectation among Conservative MPs is that there will be several candidates from the Tory right: Dominic Raab, Priti Patel and potentially Owen Paterson could all be candidates, while Boris Johnson, in the words of one: “rides both horses – is he the candidate of the left, of the right, or both?”

MPs will whittle down the field of candidates to a top two, who will then be voted on by the membership.  (As Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 Committee, notes in his interview with my colleague George Eaton, Conservative MPs could choose to offer a wider field if they so desired, but would be unlikely to surrender more power to party activists.)

The extreme likelihood is that that contest will be between two candidates: George Osborne and not-George Osborne.  “We know that the Chancellor has a bye to the final,” one minister observes, “But once you’re in the final – well, then it’s anyone’s game.”

Could “not-George Osborne” be Liam Fox? Well, the difficulty, as one MP observes, is we don’t really know what the Conservative leadership election is about:

“We don’t even know what the questions are to which the candidates will attempt to present themselves as the answer. Usually, that question would be: who can win us the election? But now that Labour have Corbyn, that question is taken care of.”

So what’s the question that MPs will be asking? We simply don’t know – and it may be that they come to a very different conclusion to their members, just as in 2001, when Ken Clarke won among MPs – before being defeated in a landslide by Conservative activists.

Much depends not only on the outcome of the European referendum, but also on its conduct. If the contest is particularly bruising, it may be that MPs are looking for a candidate who will “heal and settle”, in the words of one. That would disadvantage Fox, who will likely be a combative presence in the European referendum, and could benefit Boris Johnson, who, as one MP put it, “rides both horses” and will be less intimately linked with the referendum and its outcome than Osborne.

But equally, it could be that Euroscepticism proves to be a less powerful card than we currently expect. Ignoring the not inconsiderable organisational hurdles that have to be cleared to beat Theresa May, Boris Johnson, and potentially any or all of the “next generation” of Sajid Javid, Nicky Morgan or Stephen Crabb, we simply don’t know what the reaction of Conservative members to the In-Out referendum will be.

Firstly, there’s a non-trivial possibility that Leave could still win, despite its difficulties at centre-forward. The incentive to “reward” an Outer will be smaller. But if Britain votes to Remain – and if that vote is seen by Conservative members as the result of “dirty tricks” by the Conservative leadership – it could be that many members, far from sticking around for another three to four years to vote in the election, simply decide to leave. The last time that Cameron went against the dearest instincts of many of his party grassroots, the result was victory for the Prime Minister – and an activist base that, as the result of defections to Ukip and cancelled membership fees, is more socially liberal and more sympathetic to Cameron than it was before. Don’t forget that, for all the worry about “entryism” in the Labour leadership, it was “exitism” – of Labour members who supported David Miliband and liked the New Labour years  - that shifted that party towards Jeremy Corbyn.

It could be that if – as Brady predicts in this week’s New Statesman – the final two is an Inner and an Outer, the Eurosceptic candidate finds that the members who might have backed them are simply no longer around.

It comes back to the biggest known unknown in the race to succeed Cameron: Conservative members. For the first time in British political history, a Prime Minister will be chosen, not by MPs with an electoral mandate of their own or by voters at a general election but by an entirelyself-selecting group: party members. And we simply don't know enough about what they feel - yet. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.