David Cameron and George Osborne jet off to China tomorrow to discuss economic and environmental issues. They will leave with the great encouragement of the latest YouGov poll and its 13% Tory lead. The detail of the poll shows that Brown’s dissatisfaction ratings are now nearly as bad as Blair’s. Mr Brown is seen as a little more trustworthy but not by much.
Brown is not Mr Cameron’s main worry, however. Team Cameron are confident that they can beat Brown. Their worry is the LibDems. ConservativeHome has called the LibDems the "bindweed" of British politics. Once LibDems invade political territory they tend to hold it. At the last two sets of local elections the Tories have been winning seats from the LibDems but will that start to change with Ming gone?
Most Tory strategists do not expect the LibDems to be easy opponents with Nick Clegg at the helm (the likely winner when the LibDem ballot result is declared on Tuesday). With Charles Kennedy, Shirley Williams, Ming Campbell, Paddy Ashdown, Vince Cable, David Laws, Chris Huhne, Steve Webb and Julia Goldsworthy all possible members of a Clegg team, it will be a force to be reckoned with. They are all considerable figures able to command media attention.
The LibDems hold so many seats in southern England that the Tories must win in order to command a working majority after the next General Election. Some Tories close to Mr Cameron do not think that it is realistic to expect to win more than ten LibDem seats. In this scenario the Tories have to either make spectacular gains from Labour (no longer an unrealistic possibility) or think about making deals with the LibDems.
An openness to working with the LibDems is the theme of an overnight article that David Cameron has written for conservatives.com. In it he notes how the Conservatives have worked together in recent times on forcing Labour to adopt a Climate Change Bill and on the passage of the Sustainable Communities Bill. He hopes that the LibDems and the Greens can work together in 2008 to "decentralise political power".
Vince Cable has already dismissed the invitation. David Cameron must be living in "cloud cuckoo land," the outgoing LibDem leader said. "The Liberal Democrats will continue to work with other parties on issues where we have common ground and can work together in the national interest," he said.
Mr Cameron probably expected the reaction. If he ends up looking the reasonable person – wanting to co-operate – that’s not too bad. More significantly he is putting markers down so that come the next election the party can show that it has a track record of looking co-operative. Remember the Greg Dyke offer to Ming Campbell? Most Conservatives do not want Lib-Con deals and opposition to such co-operation will be a hallmark of ConservativeHome’s 2008 manifesto, launching on 7th January.