Time and again during this campaign, we've been asked to imagine who Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to see in 10 Downing Street come election day. Posed by the Tories and the right-wing press, the hypothetical suggests Putin wants Miliband, who the Conservatives have characterised as weak/ruthless (take your pick), or the slick statesmen they tell us they see in Cameron.
Would Putin really want an unknown entity in Downing Street - especially one as open and willing to work as one with other EU leaders as Ed Miliband is? Wouldn't he prefer the devil he knows in David Cameron, the one who can't work with Europe?
In a piece for The Times, Conservative defence secretary Michael Fallon said, "Ed Miliband stabbed his own brother in the back to become Labour leader. Now he is willing to stab the United Kingdom in the back to become Prime Minister." Fallon's comments were quickly rounded on as 'embarrassing' and highly personal but were defended by the Prime Minister and senior Tories who say that Labour are preparing to make a coalition deal with an anti-nuclear party, the SNP.
The irony that the Conservatives and their own anti-nuclear party - the Lib Dems - have been in a coalition for five years was not lost on former defence chief Lord West who said Cameron had his own 'dirty deal' with the Lib Dems to push back on Trident renewal.
How tough Ed Miliband would be as PM has surfaced regularly and has centred around how he would stand up for British interests in the face of Vladimir Putin. During the #BattleforNumber10 Q&A, Jeremy Paxman said he'd been asked by a 'bloke on the tube' whether Miliband could stand up to Putin or if he'd be 'all over the floor in pieces' after two minutes. Miliband replied: "Am I tough enough? Hell yes I am tough enough."
Late last week, Conservative minister Nick Boles tweeted "Who does Vladimir Putin want to see running Britain after 7th May? Answer: the man who abandoned the Syrians to their fate and the woman who wants to scrap our nuclear deterrent." Nick Boles was citing Ed Miliband's refusal to back military intervention in Syria - leading to a government defeat - despite coming under intense pressure from David Cameron and the Americans.
It's doubtful that Ed Miliband - who would work closely with EU allies - would be Putin's first choice, since David Cameron has found himself isolated on the margins of the EU. Despite Cameron's assertions that Britain has 'led the charge' on EU sanctions on Russia, the PM has not been invited to peace talks between EU leaders and Russian leadership over the situation in Ukraine.
Could the ever-changing accusations (first weak, now ruthless) and personal attacks be a sign of a Conservative campaign in turmoil? As Labour gathers momentum in the polls, the Labour leader believes the recent and obscure personal attacks are a sign that the Tories are 'desperate' and that "Lynton Crosby is behind the scenes, pulling the strings, sending out minions. David Cameron should get a grip."
Latest polling suggests that Labour has moved three points ahead of the Conservatives and for the first time, one poll showed a higher personal rating for Ed Miliband over David Cameron. The day before Michael Fallon attacked Ed Miliband in The Times, Labour had announced a highly popular plan to end the non-dom tax status and the Tory campaign needed to shift the discussion.
One way to shift and manoeuvre away from a topic you're not going to win on is to use the so-called 'Dead cat strategy'. Boris Johnson has gone into great detail about this strategy - used by an 'Australian friend and campaigner' - to veer your campaign into an issue so distracting that it stops the electorate "talking about the issue that has been causing you so much grief."
Only serving to raise Miliband's profile, the Conservative campaign is facing calls to go positive with the publishing of their manifesto on Tuesday. We'll have to see if David Cameron takes the advice of Ed Miliband to 'get a grip' of his campaign.
In the meantime, Putin may be hoping that Miliband remains out of Number 10 to ensure the EU isn't strengthened by a renewed and active partner in the United Kingdom under a Labour government.Suggest a correction