Things are shaping up nicely for Gordon Brown ahead of the Pre-Budget Report next week. The Tories were 17 points ahead on ICM in October – now it’s 11. Cameron would have a narrow majority on this basis but, given the margin of error, we’re back into hung parliament territory. And this has a self-reinforcing effect on the Tories. A shrinking opinion poll means they tend to get paralysed, avoid arguments, play it safe, wait for Labour to screw up again. As I say in my News of the World column today, the voters who are looking for leadership then don’t really see it. This, of course, softens the Tory vote further. So the stage is set for Labour to get away with murder next week.
Brown is pretty useless at winning elections of any kind, but he certainly knows how to play psychological games with Cameron. The “class” card is – to use a Monkey analogy – like a Tripitaka headband fitted on Cameron: Brown just needs to say a few words (“Eton”) and agony ensues. Brown knows that the Tory high command are pathetically hung up about class and which schools they all went to. So if he comes up with a 45p tax for the rich, Osborne will match it. Raise it to 50p and the Tories will still match it. If the pre-Budget report next week suggests deporting every third banker to Australia, Osborne would probably match that too.
It often seems there is nothing the Tories won’t do to avoid being being called the party of the rich, which is why they sign up to huge Labour errors (not even Labour has been so stupid as to pledge to protect the wasteful NHS budget). So the Tories seem to be going through one of their all-too-regular crises of confidence. The time is, alas, ripe for Brown, in his Budget, to make one last major strike.
P.S. What a pleasure to have both TGF and Tiberius on my case once more. Just like old days. To clarify to both: I have not given up on Cameron. I consider him a formidable and potentially transformative leader who is being badly advised on this Eton thing. My criticism of Cameron is informed by my high opinion of his potential. He could be wiping the floor with Brown right now – yet an obsession with tactics has paralysed the Tory operation. Too much caution. As James says, the result is that Labour defines the Tories’ economic policy because its message is the stronger of the two.