by Atul Hatwal
Labour didn’t just lose a by-election last night, the centre-piece of Ed Miliband’s recovery strategy collapsed.
Rochester and Strood was meant to be a firebreak; the barrier that prevented the flames of a vanishing poll lead and growing internal Labour dissent from enveloping Ed Miliband.
Last week was the Labour leader’s big fight-back speech, this week was meant to be about the Tory by-election defeat to Ukip and next week should have been David Cameron’s Götterdämmerung with new defections to Ukip and the emergence of a letter in the press, signed by dozens of Tory backbenchers, calling for a change in leader.
This was the optimistic scenario mapped out by Ed Miliband’s advisers. Three weeks that would shift the topic of political conversation from Labour turmoil to Tory troubles.
As the Tories tore themselves apart, Labour jitters would subside, the poll lead would return and the path to a narrow victory would, once again, open up.
At least that was the hope. It was always a desperate strategy, entirely reliant on the actions of others: Ukip voters, truculent Tory backbenchers and journalists happy to move onto a new target.
Partially as a result of Emily Thornberry’s master-class in social media self-harm, but largely because the Ukip victory was so much narrower than expected, David Cameron is not facing the backbench meltdown forecast a few weeks ago.
There might be another defection, but the chances of a signed letter becoming public and a leadership challenge have all but disappeared.
Now there is nothing left to reset the political dynamic and Labour is left with a mess because of the type of by-election campaign necessitated by Ed Miliband’s leadership woes.