Today’s Independent explains why the Tory party is starting to get rather jitter again. Sure, Labour has fallen five points to level-peg with the party in a ComRes poll for the paper, with both on 30 per cent, but as Mike Smithson points out, the party could still be losing seats to the Opposition even if it secures a 6 per cent lead. But the poll also has Ukip on 19 per cent after the shock bill from Brussels. As I reported yesterday, MPs were already picking up on voter concern about this on the doorstep – and a poll for the Times found most voters through he would pay up in the end anyway.
Labour won’t be particularly buoyed by the poll either, though Douglas Alexander has warned his party that it will see these sorts of figures in an era of four-party politics.
But though both main party leaders have more and more to worry about, whether it be lacklustre polling and a row in Scottish Labour for Ed Miliband, or Ukip’s rise and the Rochester by-election for David Cameron, they are both being protected to a certain extent by party loyalty. Labour MPs are tribal and have the same tendency to go on the defensive about their party as most people do when an outsider criticises their family, even though they can moan extensively in private. Conservative MPs prefer public moaning, but most do think they should behave as the General Election approaches. Most would still laugh any public challenges to Cameron’s authority out of the room, although most also still expect at least one more defection to Ukip at some point.
The two parties are both protected by tribal loyalty, although I do get the sense from conversations with politicians on both sides that the Tories seem to be increasingly tribal (even though they are currently very nervous about the European Arrest Warrant, the Rochester by-election and the eventual size of the bill that David Cameron will pay to the European Commission), while Labour MPs are increasingly struggling to keep a lid on their concerns about their party’s fortunes.
So this latest poll, a possible loss in Rochester and rows in the Labour party leave Cameron and Miliband not under threat, but under a cloud. The question is whether both men can really sustain that tribal loyalty in their parties all the way to 2015, or whether something will cause discipline to break down in the ranks of one party, or both.