The team around Cameron have invested life and soul in ‘their Project’. They are a tight knit team – similar in outlook, they eat together and in recent days they’ve even shared illnesses. David Cameron was ill last Thursday. Oliver Letwin was struck at the weekend. Steve Hilton – the Project’s architect – was off work with the same flu yesterday. This morning’s ICM opinion poll for The Guardian won’t make easy reading over the fairtrade muesli and lemsips.
The 3% Labour lead takes the party back to its BC (Before Cameron) position. As Stephan Shakespeare of YouGov argues – on YourPlatform – this is a leadership that takes opinion polls very seriously. The ICM survey is only one poll, of course, but the party leadership is some way behind the lead that it had hoped the waves of positive publicity would produce.
But if the 99th day has started badly, David Cameron has high hopes that it will end more happily. It looks increasingly likely that Tony Blair will need Tory votes in tonight’s vote on the Education Bill. That will be embarassing for the Prime Minister but not fatal. The fact that it won’t be fatal infuriates a minority of Tory MPs. Their opinion is voiced by Simon Heffer in today’s Telegraph:
"It is very hard to remove a sitting Prime Minister from office between elections, but Mr Blair has played a real high-wire game with this Bill. Were it to be defeated on second reading, it is hard to see how it could not have foreshortened his premiership, such is the general mood against him in his party."
Mr Heffer and other Tories think the top priority should have been to hasten Tony Blair’s departure and to then begin the demolition of ‘Prime Minister Gordon Brown’. Team Cameron have chosen a more subtle path. If that path doesn’t produce better opinion poll ratings soon, the complaints will be that it is too subtle.
8.05AM UPDATE: The Sun has reacted angrily to news that the Tories will "reject a “timetable vote” that would ensure the Bill is law by May". Its ‘Sun Says‘ column says:
"“Principled” Tories are playing political games with kids’ schooling. David Cameron will ride to Tony Blair’s rescue in tonight’s crunch vote on education. But he is threatening to hobble the reforms as they go through Parliament. The Tory leader had a clear choice. He could have opposed the Bill from the outset as Mr Blair began caving in to Labour rebels. Or he could have risked angering his own MPs by supporting it to the end. By ducking and diving, he emerges with neither his integrity nor his courage intact."