What with his victory parade to celebrate a failure in Europe and Labour’s continuing muttering and complaining, David Cameron must be feeling pretty positive about Prime Minister’s Questions today. He’s managed to annoy some of his MPs with a Downing Street hint that it will not oppose Michael Moore’s bill to enshrine the 0.7 per cent aid target in law, but at least the Prime Minister can count on a good tribal feeling on his backbenches to tide him through today’s session.
He could taunt Miliband with Jon Cruddas’ ‘dead hand’ quote, or Lord Glasman’s assessment that his party lacks a sense of direction. Or the former advisers who tell today’s Independent that the party is still perceived as ‘anti-business’ (handy, that, given the party is having a pro-business week, or is supposed to be having one anyway). Or he could go for the jobs figures that Miliband used, and then dropped, for his big growth launch with Lord Adonis yesterday. Conservative aides enjoyed watching Matt Hancock distract from that central announcement about devolving spending and power down to regions and cities, but they knew that stats blunders like this are traps that all parties fall into when in opposition. The challenge for Labour, though, is that these blunders are still happening when the election is less than a year away. As John said last night, the party machine is struggling to get attention for its plans for power, and struggling to deflect the attention from its mistakes.
There is something else that worries Labourites, and that’s a sense that no-one quite has the momentum yet. Optimists in the Tory party think they are winning because they look at how the party is doing in the air war, with better headlines, fewer hostile briefings coming out of the party and a sense that the party appears slicker. Pragmatists, often those with a background in the City who are more comfortable studying numbers than feelings, look at the marginal seats the Tories must retain, and the seats they must win, and wonder how on earth they’re going to manage it. Labour pragmatists know their ground war is still better, but they worry that there is insufficient momentum behind their campaign, no ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ song, and only an absence of the hatred that they encountered on the doorstep in 2010. They also fear that the voter hatred has not transferred to the Conservatives. So neither party is hated, but neither party has the energy or automatic purchase with voters. It’s a tall order for Labour to try to do this in one term as an opposition, but a clunky party machine won’t make that any easier.