Sunday, September 30, 2007

Cameron meltdown as public urge early vote

David Cameron is insisting that he is still the man to take on Gordon Brown, but the sheer scale of the mountain that he still has to climb has been made apparent by all the recent opinion polls.

An Observer poll that shows the Tory leader trailing badly on nearly every indicator of public opinion. The poll also shows that voters overwhelmingly back a general election within the next year, with the largest number, nearly 40 per cent, wanting a poll within weeks.

Gordon Brown, who is expected to wait at least another week before deciding whether to call a snap election, will face intense pressure to go to the country after the Ipsos MORI poll found that 70 per cent of people want an election by spring. The biggest group of voters - 39 per cent - would like an autumn election, echoing younger members of the cabinet who want Brown to take the biggest gamble of his life and announce a November election when the Commons returns next week. Just under a third (31 per cent) want the election to be held by spring, with only a few (18 per cent) saying he should wait until 2009 or 2010.

Obviously, Brown will wait until after this weeks Tory Party conference in order to gauge how much damage has actually been done to Cameron's stock before he makes his final decision.

Brown is well aware of the Labour Party's history and will well remember Callaghan refusing to call a general election, thinking his chances would be better in the spring, only for the country to be hit by the winter of discontent; it was a mistake by Callaghan that threw Labour into the political wilderness for eighteen years.

All the indicators are that Brown is favoured by the public in all areas which matter:

Labour enjoys a seven-point lead over the Tories. Labour is on 41 per cent, the Conservatives on 34 per cent and the Lib Dems on 16 per cent. Labour's lead in today's poll is lower than its double-digit margin in some polls this weekend; however this will not alarm Brown, whose private polls are closer to Ipsos MORI's figures.

Brown is regarded as best able to handle a crisis by 60 per cent of voters, compared with 13 per cent for Cameron and 9 per cent for Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell. The Prime Minister even leads on the crisis issue among Tory supporters - by 37 per cent to 32 per cent.

Brown leads the most united team, according to 54 per cent of those asked. Cameron scores 12 per cent and Campbell scores 10 per cent.

Cameron falls behind Brown on one of the defining issues of his leadership. Just over a third of voters (34 per cent) say that Brown is best able to deal with the environment, compared with 22 per cent for Cameron and 17 per cent for Campbell.

Voters are also in no doubt that Labour is on course for victory at the next general election. More than two thirds (71 per cent) believe Labour will win a majority, with a mere 12 per cent believing Tories will win. Only 29 per cent of Tories think they will win the next election, and nearly half of Conservatives (48 per cent) think Labour will win.

I also think that these figures might make Cameron's conference even more difficult for him than it already is. The Conservative Party are already unhappy that Cameron is taking them in a direction that they don't want to go in, but they will be asking why they are going in that direction once they see that the figures don't imply that Cameron's strategy is working.

Of course, I happen to think that Cameron's figures are slipping because - every time it really matters - he caves in to his base and reverses policy that he has defined as critical to the party he wants to build.

Because of this he is not seen as leading his party.

Asked whether he was ready for an election, he replied: 'You bet.'

Cameron added: 'This is going to be the week when the Conservative Party fights back. We are going to be setting out an absolutely clear and compelling alternative to this government.'

The early success which Cameron enjoyed was based on never actually being specific about policy, which allowed him to be all things to all people. It is when he states what his policies are to be that his problems begin.

He is implying that this week he intends to set out "absolutely clear and compelling" policy.

If that's actually the case, then Cameron may very well end this week in a worse position than he starts it.

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