No opinion poll has shown a Tory lead large enough produce a Conservative majority government were it to be replicated next year.
The last five polls showed Tory ratings of 34, 31, 34, 35, 35, 34 and 33 per cent cent. Some polls show that the Party will come third in next week’s Euro-elections.
So why did Conservative MPs leave Westminster for next week’s elections, and for the long Commons break that follows, with a spring in their step? Here are 12 reasons:
- A Tory poll lead for the first time in two years: The party’s last five poll ratings have been 36, 34, 34, 36, 36, 32 and 31 per cent. Put the two sets of results together and what you see is a narrow Labour lead, with the Tories gaining an advantage in two of them – the earliest of which represented the first Conservative lead since 2012. Sure, Labour is now in front again. But a lead of any kind has been enough to raise the spirits of Tory MPs.
- The poll gap has narrowed overall: As we never tire of pointing out, what matters with polls is the trend. As YouGov’s Anthony Wells wrote the end of last year, Labour’s lead fell in 2013. The Conservative Parliamentary Party notices these things.
- The ratings of the governing party usually rise as the election approaches: It may not apply during the months head. There are two governing parties, which complicates matters. And we are now in a four party system, at least as far as the polls are concerned. But Tory MPs are remembering the Thatcher years, when the Party was usually adrift during the middle of the parliaments concerned…and came back to win.
- Labour’s strategic weakness: Tony Blair aimed to get as many Conservative voters into his “big tent”. Labour is concentrating on holding left-wing former Liberal Democrat defectors – and isn’t getting many of the voters who switched to the Tories in 2010 to re-switch.
- Ed Miliband’s personal weakness: Miliband has his strengths. He isn’t bad in the Commons. And he has sometimes turned the tactical tables on David Cameron – over Syria and press regulation, say. But his plan seems to be to go left, aim for 35 per cent, and trust that the vote distribution will do the rest. This isn’t pushing Labour’s share of the vote to anywhere near where the main opposition party’s should be. And – let’s face it – the voters see him as a nebbish.
- Labour’s economic weakness: The party suggested that recovery wouldn’t come. It has. Then it was to say that living standards wouldn’t rise. They are. In private, Labour MPs are worried about where the Party can go next. And it is still saddled with Ed Balls.
- Conservative strategic consistency: Hard working people who play by the rules. Long-term economic plan. Securing Britain’s future. After years of strategic muddle (remember the last election manifesto and the Big Society?) Downing Street has found its line and length. Lynton Crosby is giving the Tory operation campaigning shape, and CCHQ is hitting its campaigning stride. Pity about Merlin, but you can’t have everything.
- Cameron’s personal strengths: A recent polling exercise found that the Prime Minister is seen as cruel, remote, a phoney, sanctimonious and a bully. Great! Why? Because at least he isn’t seen as weak (as all post-Thatcher Conservative leaders have been, with the exception of Michael Howard). Strong and cruel beats weak and nice. P.S: There is no challenge to his authority among Tory Cabinet members. That helps a lot.
- Conservative economic strength: Have a look at George Osborne’s popularity ratings. At worst, they’ve risen. At best, they’re at all-time high. That’s not a bad measure of what voters think about their prospects. And many Tory MPs think that “things can only get better”.
- The Liberal Democrats are set to lose seats: The yellow b**tards, as their Coalition colleagues have been known to refer to them affectionately, are savvy local campaigns. Few believe that they will lose as many seats as a simple translation of their ratings into Electoral Calculus would suggest. But Conservative MPs believe that their partners will lose some. A mere ten gains would push the Tory Commons total up to 314 or so before any losses to Labour kick in.
- I’m all right, Jack!: A key determinant of Conservative backbench morale is whether or not Tory MPs in marginal seats believe that they will win next year. More now believe it is possible that a growing economy will deliver them victory.
- The Parliamentary Party is in better shape: Conservative MPs may grumble that there’s little to do at Westminster, with an absence of legislation (and now a three-week long Commons break). But look on the bright side. Less legislation means fewer U-turns, cock-ups and rebellions. And the investment that Number 10 had made in improving relationships with backbenchers is paying off. There’s lots of praise in particular for Gavin Williamson, one of Cameron’s PPS’s.