"Despite the opinion polls, it is hard to see how the Tories are going to win. Brown looks a good bet for the next election. He may not secure an overall majority, but he should survive in Downing Street."
That’s Michael Portillo’s conclusion in today’s Sunday Times. The former Tory Cabinet minister identifies two key reasons for his prediction: (1) an inadequate Tory team, and (2) a lack of appeal to aspirational or working class voters:
"Today’s Tory team lacks strength in depth. George Osborne is good but not yet weighty. David Davis is substantial, but is not part of Cameron’s project to transform the party. David Willetts and Oliver Letwin lack any sort of common touch. There is no Campbell or Mandelson. There is no Norman Tebbit either. The Conservatives have yet to find a person or a device to attract back the working-class voters who were an essential part of Thatcher’s winning coalition… The Tories are searching for some other idea that appeals to voters who aspire to do better for themselves: a modern equivalent of Thatcher’s policy of selling council houses to their tenants. But after years of thinking, no good idea has come to the Tory mind."
The one thing that Mr Portillo does think could come to the rescue of the Tories is the economy:
"If I were the chancellor, I would fear the economy more than the Tories. The downturn in the United States, led by falling house prices, is ominous. Now that is really significant, because economic weather regularly moves across the Atlantic. Maybe we can forecast, after all, that June 2010 will be dark and squally."
Michael Portillo might be right to worry about the US economy but there is no automatic guarantee that the Tories will be trusted to lead Britain out of a recession. Although the Tories are – according to some polling – more trusted on the economy than Labour it is a result of a fall in support for Brown; not a rise in confidence in George Osborne’s team. A recession may give Brown the opportunity to persuade the electorate that this is not a time to take risks with an untried economic team: hold on to nurse for fear of something worse.