James Forsyth James Forsyth

The Tories have to fight on their ground, not Labour’s

At the beginning of the autumn, strategists from all three parties assumed that the theme of the season would be Labour’s poll lead narrowing as the economic recovery picked up pace. But that hasn’t happened. Instead, Labour’s lead has remained and its own poll numbers have actually ticked up. This is, largely, thanks to Ed Miliband’s reframing of the political debate about the economy, making it about living standards

But the autumn statement showed that when the political conversation is focused on the broader economy, the Tories have the better of it. Thursday has weakened Ed Balls, strengthened George Osborne and begun to move the political debate off Labour’s turf of living standards and back onto the Tory question of economic competence.

This makes one wonder, as Lynton Crosby has been, why the Tories have been letting Miliband set the terms of debate. One person intimately involved in Tory strategy discussions tells me, ‘Lynton is making his frustration at their indiscipline very clear. He’s furious they keep wandering off on to Labour’s turf.’

With the economy recovering and wages expected to start rising faster than prices next year, the Tories have grounds for optimism. But if they are to overhaul Labour in the polls, they are going to have to be far more disciplined about which issues they engage on than they have been this autumn.

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