James Forsyth James Forsyth

Politics | 1 October 2011

Not being Ed Miliband’ may not be enough to win Cameron the general election 

Not being Ed Miliband’ may not be enough to win Cameron the general election

There is something odd going on in British politics. The traditional link between the economy and the political fortunes of the governing party is in abeyance. David Cameron and the Conservatives are much less despised than they expected they would be; a year ago, not even the most optimistic Tory would have thought they’d be level pegging with Labour in the polls. But the economy, by contrast, is in far worse shape than anyone in government predicted.

Despite the gloomy outlook, the Cameroons will arrive at their conference in Manchester in good heart. They believe that they still have the party firmly behind them. But the real source of their confidence is the belief that Cameron will always beat Ed Miliband.

One focus group of swing voters conducted a fortnight ago was so damning about the Labour leader that it even cheered up Andrew Cooper, Cameron’s pollster and chief strategist, who regards it as his job to warn colleagues that the Tory brand is still contaminated.

One member of the Cameron circle who has an insatiable desire to kick Miliband whenever he is down is George Osborne. The Chancellor remains the Tories’ chief election strategist and is determined to secure the clean victory that he failed to achieve last time. He is convinced that destroying Miliband is crucial to delivering that elusive majority.

But a strategy based on character assassination suggests a certain desperation. Last year the party’s plan was simple. They were going to run the British version of Ronald Reagan’s 1984 re-election campaign: it’s morning in Great Britain again, why would we ever want to return to where we were five years ago?

They hoped that a combination of renewed prosperity, discounted bank shares and tax cuts would have convinced the public that life really is better under the Conservatives.

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