The evidence is unambiguous.
The Conservatives led Labour in one poll last month – a Lord Ashcroft Polls survey at the very end of it. Three polls put the Tories ahead in May: the first to do “for a couple of years”, according to Anthony Wells of YouGov – since before the “omnishambles” budget. Other national polls have found Labour ahead in 2014 to date, though sometimes by very small margins. Labour’s lead has narrowed last year, but more voters are backing it than any other single Party. If they want anyone to govern, it’s Labour (whether on its own or in coalition).
Meanwhile, as Lord Ashcroft wrote earlier this week on this site, “David Cameron is the most highly rated leader among voters as a whole, swing voters and (of the established parties) his own supporters. He was also the only leader rated more highly than his party”. Wells has summed up Ed Miliband’s ratings as follows: “His approval ratings are horrid, down at IDS, Howard and Hague levels; best Prime Minister ratings normally track voting intention pretty closely but Miliband trails behind Cameron by around 15 points.”
So when I conclude that the electorate’s least disliked option, at the moment, is a Labour Government headed by Cameron I am not being (entirely) facetious.
The Labour brand is stronger than the Conservative one – a point that I and others have made many, many times on this site. We are fishing in a smaller electoral pool.
But the Cameron brand is stronger than the Miliband one – indeed, it is stronger than that of his own party. You may not like it; or complain that he has established his own brand while doing nothing to improve that of the Party he leads, or even argue that this outcome is part of a strategy – for Cameron to differentiate himself from the Tories by presenting himself as a “liberal Conservative” – but the fact remains that he runs ahead of his Party.
So one way of thinking about the next election is that it will pit a fear of Ed Miliband against a dislike of the Conservatives. Cameron will of course (does it really need saying?) not lead a Labour Government after next May. And I cannot imagine him sitting happily round a Cabinet table with Ed Balls, Harriet Harman, Andy Burnham and so on. But if it ever happened, I’m sure he would knuckle down to the grisly task with good grace. After all, he could always remind his new colleagues that, right at the start of his Tory leadership campaign, he declared himself to be “the heir to Blair”.