Alex Massie

An encouraging poll for the Tories?

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Over the course of the past year some people have, from time to time, been wise enough to remind us of just how difficult it will be for the Tories to win a majority. That's a consequence, of course, of their past anaemic performances (and a further reminder that the base is far from enough) and of the way that the current constituency boundaries are stacked against them.

Nevertheless, I suspect many of us have under-estimated those warnings thinking that this Labour government is so-clapped out and unlikeable that surely the electorate will turn on them. This wasn't an unreasonable assumption even if it might also have been premature at a time in which politics as a whole is held in such low regard by the public that the idea there could be a better way proves less powerful than might be the case in other, less difficult, circumstances.

Add an uninspiring, confusing and less than convincing beginning to the Tory campaign and you end up where we are: the Tories in the lead but not by as much as once they were and not by as much as many people think they ought to be.

So there are two ways of looking at today's Times/Populus poll of "marginals" Labour won by more than 14 points in 2005. You can panic because the parties are running neck and neck in these seats (on 38%) or you can say that, before the official campaign has even begun, the Tories are on course to take 100 or so Labour seats.

Yes, the recent trend in the polls should concern the Conservatives but you could also look at this and say that after a pretty disastrous couple of weeks the Tories are still in a decent position with two months to go before polling day. That, of course, presumes that the party ups its game. One

must

may assume that it can do so, right? If this proves the case then we may yet look back on these weeks as the kerfuffle that represented Labour's high-water mark and conclude that Gordon should have gambled on a March poll after all.

Or, to put it another way, Cameron and Osborne would have grabbed these poll figures if they'd been promised them in the summer of 2007. So all is far from lost for the Conservatives. Not by any measure. And, if I were in Tory Central Office, I might be encouraged by this:

Populus repeated a question that proved revealing in the 2008 US presidential campaign, on whether change or experience was needed most. In the US, the margin for change over experience was about 2 to 1, highlighting Barack Obama’s edge over John McCain. In Britain, 56 per cent favour change and 40 per cent experience.

Not Obama margins, but not bad for Dave either. More to the point, I find it much easier to imagine that 40% is the ceiling for "experience" than 56% being the upper-limit for "change". Even if those numbers remain unchanged one's tempted to think that Labour is much closer to "maxing-out" its support than are the Conservatives. That is, Labour have a smaller pool of undecided voters to draw upon than the Conservatives. Perhaps!

Of course I could be wrong and, as always, my own biases may cloud this analysis to the point at which it becomes useless. (And indeed, you can find grounds for Tory pessimism in this poll too. The deal ain't done yet.) But, supposing that there is a real desire for change, is that appetite likely to be satisfied by the Tories reheating some of their old recipes that, while popular with the grass roots, have been less enthusiastically received by the customers in election after election? I'd guess not. But, of course, I would think that.

Again, you can argue that the Tories should be doing better but, at the risk of seeing the glass half-full from a Tory perspective, this is not a disastorus position from which to begin a campaign. Assuming, of course, that the party runs a decent campaign...

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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