By Tim Montgomerie
Follow Tim on Twitter
A couple of Saturdays ago I launched the Do Not Underestimate Labour Association. We've all been so focused on the real weaknesses of Ed Miliband that we've been overlooking the underlying strength of the Labour Party as a whole.
They may have only won 29.0% of the vote at the last election but within days of that result Labour received the biggest electoral gift in a generation – the formation of the Coalition. One of the big reasons why Margaret Thatcher won three elections was that the political Left was divided throughout the 80s. Not now. The 5% to 8% of left-wing voters (a conservative estimate) who supported the Liberal Democrats at the last election are now voting Labour. It's going to take a great deal of bashing-the-rich etc for Nick Clegg or a more left-leaning Lib Dem leader to win them back.
Ed Miliband doesn't have to be brilliant to either win the next election or become leader of the largest party. He starts with a base vote of 35% plus. Because of the vagaries of our electoral system – only partially corrected by the boundary review – Labour need to get to just 38% or 39% to be in the political driving seat.
"The extraordinary failure of the Labour Party in 1983 was not simply due to the electoral deficiencies of Michael Foot, though these undoubtedly contributed to their landslide defeat, but to the fact the surging Liberal-SDP Alliance split the left-of-centre vote. Roughly 13 million people voted Conservative, 8.5 million for Labour and 7.8 million for the Alliance."
Noting the collapse of the Lib Dem vote he writes:
"Whilst the phenomenon will undoubtedly favour the Conservatives in blue-yellow marginals, especially where Labour voters have long tactically voted Liberal Democrat, there are almost certainly more seats where the shift of Liberal Democrat votes towards the Labour column will be enough to overhaul the Conservative."
Labour and the Tories are level-pegging in current opinion surveys and that's with Ed Miliband in charge and with a gravity-defying fiscal policy. Where could Labour be in the opinion polls with someone like Alistair Darling as leader, offering a sensible economic policy?
The Conservatives cannot afford any complacency and on MajorityConservatism next week I'll be setting out five things that the party needs to do and soon.