That seems to be a question on the minds of many commentators at the moment.  Peter Riddell noted yesterday that the Tories were still seeking the knockout blow.  The topic is also on David Cameron’s mind.  In a briefing to frontbenchers on Tuesday he said that he was working towards a 45% poll rating for the Conservatives.  He noted underlying improvements in the party’s position – especially on economic competence.  After years of being 20% or more behind on measures of economic trust, the Tories are now level-pegging with Labour or slightly ahead.  At the frontbenchers meeting David Cameron joked that when the Tories are well ahead on measures of economic competence, that will be the time that George Osborne challenges him for the leadership.  George smiled broadly at this point!

So, why are the Tories at about 40% (40.2% in ConservativeHome’s latest poll of polls) rather than 45%?

Steve Richards, in today’s Independent, thinks it may be policy "fuzziness": "The fuzziness is reflected in some contradictory policy announcements. Cameron calls for schools to be set free and yet is prescriptive about what should be taught, most recently grabbing headlines about the methods required to ensure kids can read by the time they are six. More widely at yesterday’s Prime Minister’s Question Time, Cameron asked two questions that implied support for rises in public spending on defence and prison-building yet his overall policy is to spend the proceeds of growth on tax cuts as well as expenditure."

Janet Daley, Telegraph, worried that Cameron’s devastation of Brown at PMQs (watch this as an example) may be endangering Cameron’s nice guy image:

"Mr Cameron has traded heavily – and successfully – on being a nice guy.
Looking like the sadist of the lower sixth egging on a baying gang of
henchmen is not consistent with his engaging New Conservative image and
particularly not with the year and a half that was devoted to a
Not-The-Nasty-Party-Any-More public relations campaign."

Fraser Nelson has warned the Tories to be on the alert at charges of elitism: "When Cameron first threw his hat into the ring as leader, many Tories
asked aloud if an Etonian could really be party leader. Not from a
sense of inverted snobbery, but because they feared the left would
caricature the Tories as being of the rich for the rich. The Daily
Mirror has indeed done this remorselessly, hunting for stories that
play to this theme. And on Monday, they found one."

My own opinion… Things are going well for the Conservatives but there’s been too much tactics and too little strategy of late.  This should be a time for deepening the Conservative agenda and for anticipating the ‘Clegg effect’.  Have we, for example, been studying the Orange Book?  That book may provide many clues to the likely new LibDem leader’s approach and we should be preparing attack lines and plundering it for the best ideas.

Instead we’ve been playing too much politics.  Tuesday’s decision by our party to debate party funding was a mistake and not just because Quentin Letts was horrified by the spectacle of MPs throwing mud at each other – although that was predictable.  Voters are more interested in competence.  Unfortunately they think most politicians are sleazy but they hope, as Libby Purves has argued, that they’re capable of "keep[ing] the trains (and
the taxmen) on the rails." 

We should be allowing the Daily Mail and Guido Fawkes etc to take the lead in exposing Labour sleaze; we should be getting on with presenting the positive Conservative alternative.  Before the Brown takeover, David Cameron wasted too many PMQs on the Brown-Blair rivalry.  It was, as the Americans say, all inside-the-Beltway stuff.  Those PMQs – and PMQs now – should nearly always be used to reinforce David Cameron’s image as a statesman with a broad interest in the challenges facing Britain.

There’s no need for worry but no Conservative should underestimate the task still ahead.

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