With Labour conference winding down, attention shifts to the Tories. They will head to Birmingham facing several challenges. First, the loss of the boundary changes means that winning a majority requires them to be on, at least, forty two per cent — six points up on where they were in 2010. Second, Ed Miliband has shown this week that he has more political life in him than many Tories appreciated. Third, the government’s reputation for competence has taken a beating over the past few months.
But despite all this, one finds a renewed sense of confidence among the Cameroons. The listlessness of a few months ago has gone to be replaced by a sense of determined optimism.
To my mind, things do look better for them than they did before the Olympics. The most important change is that the coalition is functioning again. Differentiation, which was disastrous for both sides, has been replaced by a desire to make the government work. Indeed, in this new spirit of coalition comity, a deal that would see the Liberal Democrats accept further welfare cuts in exchange for something they could call a wealth tax appears likely. This would bolster both sides claim to the mantle of fairness.
The economy also appears to be picking up. A period of sustained, albeit unspectacular, growth now seems likely. This should help stretch the coalition lead on economic competence.
On the political front, the Tory machine is being sharpened up. The energetic Grant Shapps does appear determined to tackle the institutionalised incompetence of CCHQ. Cameron himself is also prepared to be more political — his conference speech this year will include a string of attacks on Labour.
Finally, Labour still has to deal with its biggest problem: the public’s sense that its borrowing and spending are one of the main reasons the country is in the trouble it is. Miliband’s speech, for all that it did do, didn’t tackle this problem.
None of this is to say that the Tories face an easy task at the next election: even if they won every seat they are targeting, they’d still only have a majority of 21. But given Cameron’s lead over Miliband in the best PM stakes and the coalition advantage on economic competence even when the country is in recession, I think things are not actually that bad for them. But if you read tomorrow’s magazine, you’ll see that Fraser takes a very different view.Tags: Conservatives, UK politics