Deep in the mire

AWAY from its cosy enclave in East Anglia, all is not well with the Conservative Party. Since the end of the conference season, the Tories have been on the slide while Labour has gone from strength to strength.

AWAY from its cosy enclave in East Anglia, all is not well with the Conservative Party. Since the end of the conference season, the Tories have been on the slide while Labour has gone from strength to strength.

To say the Conservatives face humiliation for the third election in a row seems to be an understatement. The latest opinion poll by CommunicateResearch > published in the Independent on Sunday suggests a catastrophe is on the cards, with Labour on 42% and the Tories 11 points behind.

That's worse than when Iain Duncan Smith was in charge. In the final months leading up to last year's putsch against IDS by agitated MPs, Labour enjoyed an average lead in the polls of just five points.

In the 2001 General Election, the Tories secured 35.2% of the vote in the 2001 election against Labour's 41.4% – a margin of 6.2 points.


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If the opinion poll findings are replicated at the General Election, Labour would increase its overall majority marginally to 168, even though it faces a loss of seats in Scotland following boundary revisions to reduce the number of MPs following devolution.

The only crumb of comfort I can offer bewildered Conservative MPs and activists is that while a significant number of voters believe the Liberal Democrats are now the effective opposition to Labour – based largely on the public's continuing antipathy to Tony Blair's military adventure in Iraq – the Lib Dems have lost much of their recent surge in popularity as voters return to Labour to endorse Tony Blair for a third time.

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Shadow chancellor Oliver Letwin moans plaintively that the Tories are not getting their message across clearly enough to the public. Perhaps its time for the Conservative to concede that the message is getting across, and voters want nothing to do with it.

Meanwhile a re-energised Tony Blair yesterday stepped up the ante with the launch of a series of national newspaper adverts declaring "Britain is Working" in national newspapers ahead of Thursday's pre-Budget report and the council tax settlement.

It was the first time since the 2001 victory that Labour has placed adverts outside of an election battle. The campaign sets the scene for what party insiders say will be a poll showdown fought by Labour on "security for all and opportunity for all."

Symbols of national achievement, from the new Wembley arch to an Olympic gold medal, were used to spell out the slogan. The adverts carry three key messages to voters – record high employment, the lowest mortgage rate for 40 years, and the UK's achievement in overtaking France as the world's fourth largest economy.

"Don't let the Tories wreck it," it adds. How do the Tories counter the feelgood factor glowing across Britain?

The best bet for Michael Howard would be a dramatic slump in house prices with thousands of struggling young couples facing negative equity.

But are the Tories really so callous that they want to glory in the sons and daughters of Middle England mired in despair just to pick up a few votes?

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