Every right to be optimistic

TWO of the perkiest fellows at Labour's conference in Brighton two weeks ago were Dave Monaghan and Neil Macdonald, who will be trying to unseat Conservative MPs in Bury St Edmunds and the Suffolk Central and Ipswich North constituency.

TWO of the perkiest fellows at Labour's conference in Brighton two weeks ago were Dave Monaghan and Neil Macdonald, who will be trying to unseat Conservative MPs in Bury St Edmunds and the Suffolk Central and Ipswich North constituency.

Logic dictates they have no chance. The opinion poll in the Tory supporting Sunday Telegraph tells another story.

Michael Howard told me last week he was not obsessed by opinion polls. If he isn't, he should be - and so should his MPs and Parliamentary hopefuls.

Should the Sunday Telegraph poll be replicated on polling day, the Tory Party faces losing seats as Labour heads for a record third landslide victory.


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The Tories are 3% down on their dismal performance at the 2001 General Election, Labour marginally down, and the Liberal Democrats up.

Translated into the next election, not only would the Tories fail to recapture the Labour marginals of Braintree and Harwich but MP David Ruffley would face a major fight to hold Bury St Edmunds and Sir Michael Lord would have to pull out all the stops to prevent being evicted from Suffolk Central and Ipswich North after 21 years in Parliament.

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As Tory strategists wonder why they are not making any headway, it's clear that the policies - including lower taxes and reduced public spending - on offer just do not make any sense to the voters.

The Tories have failed to explain how you can reduce taxes and retain a National Health Service free at the point of delivery. Offering vouchers to help pay for bills in the private sector in order to get speedier treatment - the big Conservative idea - seems to appeal to nobody.

Howard's Tories fail on Iraq because they supported the Government. Any voters for whom this will be the big issue next time will turn to the Liberal Democrats, whose opposition has been consistent and principled.

The few hundred votes which may be gained from the hunting and coursing fraternity seem set to be cancelled out by anti-Europe Tories turning to the UK Independence Party.

Last week in Bournemouth, the Conservative leader put trust at the heart of the Tory message for the election campaign. The ICM poll indicates the voters find the cry from a party still reeling from 1990s sleaze, negative equity and Black Wednesday so laughable, that they put the Tories on 29% on the issue - 11% behind Mr Blair, who took us to war in Iraq on a totally false prospectus.

Against this vision of hell for the Tories, a re-energised Tony Blair yesterday set out his vision of the "opportunity society" that will be his mission for a third term in office.

The Prime Minister promised welfare reforms intended to give people chances rather than respond to their problems. "On the foundations of economic stability and record investment, the third term vision has to be to alter fundamentally the contract between citizen and state at the heart of that 20th century settlement - to move from a welfare state that relieves poverty and provides basic services to one which offers high quality services and the opportunity for all to fulfil their potential to the full."

Despite having their most upbeat conference since 1997, it seems the Conservatives just have no answer.

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