We’ve had three opinions polls over the weekend – from ComRes, YouGov and in today’s Mirror from Ipsos MORI.  Taken together they point to a hung parliament and in The Sun Trevor Kavanagh raises the prospect of a February election.

David Cameron will give another speech on the economy this morning as he wrestles to regain the political initiative.  In today’s Independent Bruce Anderson calls for a big, intellectual speech from the Conservative leader and for broadening the debate to the broken society.  That’s good advice.  Some pretty poor advice came yesterday from Michael Portillo in The Sunday Times.  Mr Portillo urged the return of Ken Clarke:

"He has what his party’s front bench apparently lacks: “bottom”, that combination of independent-mindedness, experience and gravitas that makes people listen and trust. There is no doubt that if he became shadow chancellor the Tories’ credibility would soar. His return to the team would wipe the smirks from Labour faces as surely as Mandelson’s reenlistment shook the Conservatives a few weeks ago. Labour could then hardly taunt the Tories as Etonian toffs, for nobody looks less Bullingdon club than Clarke."

Mr Portillo said Mr Clarke was the "deadly weapon Cameron daren’t use". Mr Cameron is right not to bring the former Chancellor back:

  • Ken Clarke is a big beast who has served the party well but he has also been guilty of considerable disloyalty.  He attempted to sabotage William Hague’s ‘Save the pound’ campaign in the late 1990s, only recently attacked David Cameron’s human rights bill as "xenophobic" and opposes leaving the EPP as a "head-banging" policy.
  • He would undermine David Cameron’s ‘change’ message – not just presentationally but his ideas are out-dated. He doesn’t, for example, support the Tory leader’s flagship policies on the family and would resist recognition of marriage in the tax system. As Chairman of the Democracy Taskforce his recommended answer to the West Lothian Question was timid.
  • A healthy Chancellor-Leader relationship is vital to the success of any political party. The Osborne-Cameron relationship works. A Clarke-Cameron relationship would be a huge gamble.

More broadly there is no need for panic. I’ve already set out some reasons why the ‘bite of recession’ will cause bigger and bigger political problems for Labour and listed the broader political factors that favour the Conservatives.  I sign up to Mike Smithson’s rule that the more David Cameron is in the media the better the Conservatives do in the polls.  I also believe that it would be wrong to change George Osborne now that the party has the right economic position.  Business leaders write to today’s FT endorsing the Tory idea of underwriting bank lending.  Opinion-formers are also coming over; Saturday was notable for two of the Mail’s biggest columnists, Amanda Platell and Peter Oborne, endorsing David Cameron’s tough-but-prudent economic stance.  Yet again Michael Portillo offers advice that is best ignored.

Tim Montgomerie

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