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It’s good to be back on home turf after my sojourn in the left-wing ecosphere. (They really do call it that. Some if them, anyway). My visit to the Labour conference in Brighton last week was well received: Dennis Skinner made a point of saying hello, I was raucously greeted by Kevin Maguire at the Mirror party and I had a nice chat with Chuka Umunna, who evidently enjoys rock-star status among the comrades. Still, some of them were slightly perplexed as to what I was doing there. In fact I was a guest of the Fabian Society, invited to debate Ed Miliband’s speech with John Denham and other luminaries including Arnie Graf, the Chicago community organiser and mentor to President Obama now running Labour’s ground campaign. It was a return visit, following the appearance of the Fabians’ Marcus Roberts to the Conservative conference in Birmingham last year.

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They treated me kindly and I enjoyed myself enormously, but if you’re worried that I am about to switch sides, don’t be. I told the audience why I became a Tory, indeed the first generation in my Lancashire family to vote Conservative; that a nation has to create wealth before it can decide how to carve it up. I also took the opportunity to tell them a few gentle truths about their position. Many in the Labour movement think they lost the last election because of the banks, the Murdoch press, and the fact that Gordon wasn’t very good on the telly. That’s why they’ve avoided taking responsibility for the deficit, which in turn is why many still fear Labour would spend more than Britain can afford. Miliband’s speech did nothing to reassure them on that point, while entrenching Labour’s position on the wrong side of the welfare debate. These are all reasons why – though it is currently Labour’s to lose, as my recent poll in the marginals found – I think we could be in for the closest election for forty years.

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Labour insiders in Brighton (forgive me for going on about it; there’s a lot you can learn by spending time in unfamiliar territory) were agreed that Ed’s speech was designed to galvanise Labour’s supporters and activists, rather than reach out to wavering Tories. But while some thought this was a deliberate ploy to enthuse the activists before the great appeal to the centre, others thought this was it: there would be no attempt to reach out; there really is a “35 per cent strategy”. I’m beginning to think – and certainly hope – that the latter view is right. But the fact that Labour seem to be running a core vote campaign is no reason for us to do the same. If Ed really is only aiming at the people who want to “bring back socialism”, that doesn’t mean everyone else will fall into our laps.

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I will reveal my latest batch of polling at the Conservative Home event this afternoon, cheerfully titled How To Win The Next Election. (Yes, the “representative from Lord Ashcroft Polls” to whom the handbook mysteriously refers is me). The research was conducted before the conference season to avoid any skewing effect from the relentless coverage, which will be quickly forgotten. Already the intrigue of the Lib Dems’ Glasgow gathering (will Vince support his own economic policy or not??) seems an age ago. I will also be unveiling some new analysis from my marginal seats poll. Owen Paterson, Andrew Mitchell and Tim Montgomerie will then tell us what to do about it. See you there.

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What proportion of Carlton Club members are peers of the realm? Close: it’s two per cent. This useful fact comes from the Club’s latest member survey (or internal polling, as I like to think of it), which has come my way. Pleasingly, more than half the members visit the Club at least once a month; amazingly, two per cent of them do so every day (it is not clear whether this just means all the Lords). One in ten do so “mostly for overnight bedroom usage”. Just over half say they never attend the Conservative Party conference, while 13 per cent do so most years; around a third do so infrequently (though this group contains two factions: the 17 per cent who “seldom” attend and the 15 per cent who do so “occasionally”). One fifth think the dining room menu has recently improved “a lot”, but only eight per cent think it has improved “significantly”. A proposal to relax the need for ties on Friday nights was soundly defeated.

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