Fraser Nelson

Time for Cameron’s Lazarus act

Time for Cameron's Lazarus act
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Two seriously worrying polls for the Conservatives today. One is a Sunday Times/YouGov poll, showing a Labour recovery reducing the Tory lead to six points  well into hung parliament territory and the lowest since December 2008. The other is a PoliticsHome poll in the News of the World, according to which: Cameron’s approval rate has been steadily falling, and Brown’s similtaneously rising – the difference between them has halved, in recent months, from 90 points to 45 points.

If the election is a 39-33 split, then the Tories end up with just ten more seats than Labour and are dependent on coalition with the LibDems. A result like this, against a government whose agenda has failed so spectacularly and who are led by such an unpopular leader, would be pretty disastrous. And for everyone involved: Labour loses, the Tories don’t really win. The good news is that disaster can be averted. Here’s my remedy.

Elections generally come down to victory for one of two messages: “It’s time for change” or “Don’t risk the new guy”. Gordon Brown has managed to focus the phoney campaign on the latter. He has been unwittingly helped by the Tories: that disastrous Cameron’s head poster campaign, then this neverending flow of draft manifestos complete with unforced errors from researchers. This put the focus on the “new guy” and the rather inept handling of it all served to reinforce Brown’s message: don’t trust the new guy. The election is going wrong because people are looking at the Tories and thinking, “oooh. I’m not sure.”

Brown’s message, meanwhile, is brutally clear. I hate to say it, but the PM's lie – that he somehow “saved” the banks, and that he saved us from a worse recession in so doing – is cutting through on the doorsteps. I’m told this by Tory candidates, who are puzzled and more than a little frustrated that Brown’s message is makijng an impact while their own is not. But what is the Tory message? Here lies the problem. There is no one clear message - just lots of rather fuzzy ones. Brown is a repetitious bore, but knows that only when the press are sick of a message do the public finally start to hear it. He hammers home his mendacious lines every time he opens his mouth: many not the few, “global uncertainty” etc. And the Tories?

We are where we are. There are a matter of weeks left until the election, it is – alas - too late to introduce any new message. The Tories need focus. They want this message to be about one question: “Do you want five more years of Gordon Brown?” As for finessing that, I say in my News of the World column today that it should have, at the very most, five components.

1. That Cameron will save Britain following Greece down the economic khazi.

2. That the Tories would look out for families (tax breaks, etc).

3. “We’ll protect the NHS.” An unaffordable promise, if you ask me, but they’ve made it and may as well shout about it.

4. School discipline – a concept everyone can grasp. Where possible, school reform.

5. Criminal justice and sentencing.

Saving the campaign will require a mind-shift in Tory HQ. Realising that things are going wrong. I am relatively optimistic about the chances of things coming good, in the end, because Cameron is at his best when his back is against the wall, and the firing squad is taking aim. Which they’re doing about now. He can repeat his Lazarus act, as he did during his own leadership campaign and, again, in the election-that-never-was. With a versatile leader like Cameron, the Tories are indeed capable of getting their act together in time. But if I were Gordon Brown, I’d be tempted to call the election now, before they do.