I’ve never been convinced that the Conservatives have already won the next general election, so much can happen between then and now and we’ve all been waiting so eagerly to hear what David Cameron might actually do.
But I am surprised at how easily the Tories have wobbled over their opinion poll lead narrowing to eight per cent, especially when we’re at a point where new opinion polls seem to be published at least weekly. The Times, whose poll this was, put a brave face on things – David Cameron rides out Labour’s ‘toff’ attack – but others suggested the election is coming to life. The Times thundered in its editorial that drifting into power on the back of Labour’s unpopularity ‘will not provide a mandate to govern’. Perhaps more predictably John Harris wrote in the Guardian that, …criticisms of David Cameron’s background and his party’s political inconsistency have hit home. Now the prospect of a Conservative landslide seems to have disappeared,’ a view backed by some apparently smart money going on a hung parliament.
Suddenly the chattering classes’ most popular phrase is Cameron has ‘not sealed the deal’.
This has provided those in the Conservative party who have not been entirely convinced by Cameron an opportunity to speak up. ConservativeHome complains: ‘We are not seeing the best of David Cameron… neglecting the base of the Conservative Party… not setting a clear direction on deficit reduction… deliver[ing] too many forgettable speeches.’
And this is why the Tories are wobbling. When Cameron is ahead in the polls, nobody can criticise him. He appears to be winning, so is obviously right. But the Conservative Party is a complex beast and not everyone is entirely behind Cameron’s project, whatever that may be.
Talk of using all-women shortlists to modernise the Tory party made many shudder and just as many were gutted by his standing down on the Lisbon Treaty. These people are aching to assert themselves over this putative Conservative Government, desperate for an opportunity to get their thoughts into the manifesto.
A wobble in the polls provides them with an opportunity to offer advice. The danger for Cameron is that all this advice will spark public rows that rock the boat still further. To avoid that he needs to articulate a clear vision that his people can believe in; a vision so strong that it crowds out debate. But he may be too late.