The Tory task at the next election is enormous. No party in the democratic age has ever won a fifth consecutive term in office and bruising battles over Brexit and Covid mean the Conservatives will have a tough ask next time out. Boris Johnson's team still have two years left in office but inside No. 10 minds are already turning to the looming clash with the Starmer army. On what fertile ground can the forthcoming general election be fought and won by the Tories?
Unfortunately for the bright young things of CCHQ, it looks like Labour's traditional weak spot on 'law and order' has now been nullified. There were hopes that Sir Keir's record as a QC – defending all kinds of unseemly sorts – might make him susceptible to jibes of being soft on crime or terror. But Labour have sought to outflank the Tories on this in recent months. This has been done partly through talking tough, such as this week demanding an immediate injunction on Extinction Rebellion's petrol protests.
They've also been helped by the fact that the Conservative party is led by a man who has been fined by the Metropolitan police for breaching lockdown rules. Polling fieldwork done yesterday, 24 hours after the fines became public knowledge, shows the extent to which recent shenanigans in Downing Street have now cut through with voters.
According to Redfield and Wilton, when asked which party is most associated with 'law and order', just 23 per cent plump for the Conservatives, compared to 18 per cent for Labour. And that lead slumps to merely one point among female voters, with the Tories taking 18 per cent compared to Labour's 17 per cent. Indeed, a breakdown of age groups show that Labour now lead on law and order with every age category under 45. The two parties are tied on 20 per cent for those voters between 45 and 54, based on a poll of 1,500 adults.
Partygate hasn't just damaged the Conservatives on law and order. Sleaze is rearing its ugly head again, as Labour seeks to exploit the Tories' recent woes. When asked, 'At this moment, between the Labour party and the Conservative party, which party do you associate with the following: sleaze?' almost four times as many voters go for the Conservatives as they do for Labour. Just 10 per cent associate Keir Starmer's party with sleaze compared to 38 per cent for Boris Johnson's Tories.
Given CCHQ's dependency on the 'grey vote', most troubling will be the findings which reveal older voters' disapproval of recent reports about lockdown-breaking parties. Nearly one in two voters between the age of 55 and 64 (45 per cent) say the Conservatives are more associated with sleaze, compared to merely 5 per cent for Labour. And that gap is scarcely better among pensioners too, with the Tories being viewed as the sleazier party in the mind of 37 per cent of voters. Only 9 per cent opted for Labour.
With postal votes going out this week, it doesn't bode well for those Conservatives standing in next month's local elections...