Andrew Grice uses his column in today's Independent to report on the background to the "outbreak of the jitters" going on inside the party.
It comes after a series of opinion polls saw the Tory lead reduced to single figures (something which Tim considered here a couple of weeks ago).
Grice points to a number of possible causes:
- The policy change on the Lisbon referendum – which, he reports, resulted in 4,000 angry letters to Mr Cameron: "The issue for many correspondents was not Europe but trust, a promise broken".
- George Osborne's spelling out of some spending cuts at the party conference,
- Renewed reports that the Tories are out of touch with ordinary voters, with reference variously to the privileged background and non-dom status of well-known figures and the inheritance tax policy.
- The failure to use shadow cabinet members other than Cameron or Osborne for big announcements.
- A reluctance on Cameron's part to go big on the environment.
The PoliticsHome poll at the beginning of the month certainly suggested that the downturn in ratings was a direct result of the change of policy on Lisbon.
I'm certainly not convinced that the last point is of any great significance with most voters and I fail to see how the second point should be taken as a negative: as Grice himself concedes in reference to Lisbon, "trust matters", and being honest about the need for austerity is absolutely vital. Unlike Labour, which, for example, used the PBR to plan benefit increases only to be followed by cuts the following year, the Conservatives are rightly telling voters that it will likely be a painful road to recovery. To say otherwise would be dishonest.
Probably the point above requiring most attention is the fourth one, about the need for greater use of the other members of the shadow cabinet and their teams. True, David Cameron is the party's hugest asset, but he must reinforce the picture of the frontbench being a government-in-waiting by doing all he can to ensure that his shadow cabinet colleagues get more exposure (although some blame for this can arguably be pointed at the media).
On the wider point of seeing a narrowing of the lead in the polls, I would assert that it is probably no bad thing: it serves as a reminder not only that the electorate should not be taken for granted before a single vote has been cast, but also that this election will be closer than some people have previously suggested.
People will have a choice between a tired, failing Labour Government doing its best to bankrupt the country and a fresh Conservative alternative. In other words, there's not going to be a Lib Dem government and any vote for the Lib Dems will only serve potentially to allow the discredited Labour administration to cling on.