Peter Hoskin

When does reputational damage become real damage?

When does reputational damage become real damage?
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So has the Lord Ashcraft saga fouled the Tories' reputation?  Well, looking at this One Poll survey in PR Week it would seem it has.  52 percent of respondents feel that the party's reputation hasn't improved since the start of the year – and 37 percent think that the Ashcroft revelations are the biggest contributing factor to that.

But what does all that really mean?  After all, another finding is that 20 percent of respondents believe that the 2006 story about a bike-riding Cameron being trailed by his chauffeur is "still damaging" to the Tories.  That may be so.  But will that kind of reputational "damage" really stop people voting for the Tories come the election?  Similarly, will the Ashcroft story actually sway hearts and minds?

For answers, I'd rather look to the voting intention polls, where the Tory lead was shrinking before the revelations about Ashcroft's tax status – and, if anything, has rallied slightly since.  So, no, cumulative effects aside, I don't think there's much evidence that Ashcroft has caused any real, lasting damage to Cameron & Co. – the problems that they've faced this year have been more deep-seated than that.  Truth is, so many of Westminster's internal ding-dongs fall into what Danny Finkelstein recently called "the huge gulf of distrust, disbelief and lack of interest that now separates the political class from everyone else."

In which case, the Tories should probably be more concerned about another finding in this PR Week poll: 42 per cent of respondents believe that Cameron isn't the "right man" to clean up politics.  But, then, I doubt the public feel many politicians are worthy of that role.