There’s been much hullaballoo this afternoon over a Populus poll that shows a Labour lead of one point. The usual caveats apply (it’s just one poll!); but, nevertheless, this sample adds to the sense that Ed Miliband is in difficulty. There is, incidentally, only 419 days to go until election day.

If the Populus poll was disappointing, then this projection compiled by Stephen Fisher of Oxford University could have Miliband reaching for the scotch:

‘Forecast Election Day Seats:
Con : 307
Lab : 285
LD  : 31
Con largest party, but short of a majority by 19’

A dismal prospect for Labour; but there are also worries for the Tories because they are not yet benefitting from Miliband’s malaise and the economic recovery. The Populus poll has them unchanged on 34% and they are unmoved on Fisher’s projections. Needless to say, UKIP’s support is healthy – 13% according to Populus.

David Cameron is in a stronger position than Miliband because he has more influence on events. Next week’s Budget is, obviously, crucial: the last big chance for George Osborne to make a ‘game-changing reform’ to drive home the advantage he has over Ed Balls. As for the UKIP problem, these various polls support the view that a vote for Nigel Farage is a vote for Miliband, which, after Miliband’s EU announcement earlier this week, means a vote for the European status quo. That, at least, is how the argument might run; whether the kippers flock to Tory colours is another matter.

Miliband is increasingly at the mercy of events; but he still holds a number of decent cards, chief among which is the electoral system – he doesn’t have to do very much to win. But more effort is required because Labour remains an indistinct, unpopular entity. The reason for this, I think, is the party’s caution on the vital question of the public finances. Talking to a Miliband loyalist earlier this week, I was struck by his inability to speak clearly about spending. He had lots of ideas that might save money, but nothing in the way of a firm plan that voters – and indeed journalists – can understand and endorse. Labour may pay dearly for its confusing approach.

Tags: 2015 election, Conservative, David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Labour, Polls, UKIP