Northern comfort for Cameron

ALTHOUGH there is growing polling evidence to suggest that David Cameron has yet to seal the deal with voters, the Conservative strategy of tapping into the working class vote in the north of England seems to be paying off.

Graham Dines

ALTHOUGH there is growing polling evidence to suggest that David Cameron has yet to seal the deal with voters, the Conservative strategy of tapping into the working class vote in the north of England seems to be paying off.

A survey of voters in 32 Labour-held constituencies by YouGov for the Daily Telegraph put the Conservatives on 42% - a lead of six points compared with a 10% actual deficit in 2005 (34% to 44%).

The turnaround is greater than across the country as a whole and would be enough to defeat Labour MPs in every one of the northern seats which are being targeted by a drive from Tory HQ - including Gordon Brown's chief bruiser Ed Balls, who was in his typical thuggish mood during this week's Prime Minister's Questions.


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However, inroads into Labour's heartlands - a strategy masterminded by Lord Ashcroft - may not be enough to prevent a hung parliament. Scotland is holding out against the Cameron charm offensive, while many diehard Tories may desert the party for UKIP over the Tories reneging on their pledge to hold a referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon.

Cameron and election supremo George Osborne are more rattled than they let on. But money is pouring into Tory coffers, largely from City investors and other wealthy people who have been encouraged by Cameron's pledge to raise inheritance tax thresholds to �2million, to uncap tax relief on top pensions, to cut corporation tax from 28p to 20p, and to abolish the new 50p tax rate.

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Next week, Chancellor Alistair Darling will present his Pre-Budget Report in which he will set out the Government's thinking on spending and taxes. He is widely expected to introduce measures which would help the poor by taking more from the rich and if the Tories decide to oppose him and advocate lower taxes on the richest 1% in society, then this would draw clear blue water between the main two parties.

Should Osborne become Chancellor after the election, he is almost certain to raise VAT from the restored rate of 17.5% to 20%. Again this does not impact on the wealthy but it does hit disproportionately the poor - a litre of petrol or a washing machine costs the same if you earn �10,000 a year or �1m.

In the northern survey, YouGov found 61% think the Tory plan to raise the inheritance tax threshold showed they “mainly want to help the rich, not ordinary people.”

While Mr Cameron enjoyed a 13-point lead over Gordon Brown as the person who would make the best prime minister, marginal voters did not feel he understood their problems any more than his Labour rival (37% each). Nor do many expect a Cameron-led government to improve education (26%), the NHS (22%) or crime (19%)

Although it seems at this stage that Cameron is more likely to win the election than Brown, there is a growing feeling that the Tories may fall short of an overall majority, being the largest party in a hung parliament.

FIRST CLASS BOB TOP OF THE FORM

CONGRATULATIONS to Colchester Liberal Democrat Bob Russell, who once again has the best voting record of any opposition MP in Britain.

For the 12th consecutive year, he leads the pack with an impressive 86%. As he is the first to point out, voting in the Commons is not the sole duty of an MP but it does give an indication of how often members are in and around the parliamentary estate.

Meanwhile, Mr Russell has offended at least one constituent by travelling first class on the train while standard class commuters are forced to stand, sometimes for the whole journey.

Tom Ward, of Salisbury Avenue says he was “absolutely astonished to see Mr Russell comfortably enjoying first class. He had a table all to himself and was able to relax presumably at our expense whilst reading a newspaper - meanwhile I was left to stand.

“If Bob is such a man of the people why doesn't he come join us and give up his tax paid first class ticket? Given that we are in the midst of a recession does he really think it fair to travel in this way?”

Mr Russell says there is “certainly an argument” that there should not be different categories of carriages for rail users, and that first class should be abolished. However, the railway companies would compensate for the loss of income by increasing fares for the standard fare.

“The House of Commons allows MPs to travel first class. Mr Ward wants me to forgo this, and competitively seek a seat in what he and I agree are often over-subscribed seats in the standard carriages.

“But would it help matters if there was to be one more person in standard to be replaced by an empty seat in first?”

Personally, I can see no objection to MPs being given first class tickets as part of their terms and conditions of service, even though it comes with a heavy price. Given that the walk-on first class return fare from London to Glasgow is more than �500, then MPs' travel arrangements for both constituency duties and other business cost taxpayers a pretty penny. And, of course, spouses are allowed the perk as well for some of their visits to the Commons.

What I find more questionable is that councillors and council officers can travel first class - of course many do not, conscious that it is public money - and in Essex the council taxpayers stump up thousands of pounds when Cabinet members and departmental directors fly business class or even first class, as they did on recent visits to China.

MRS YOUNG'S VALE OF SORROW

IF politicians aren't thick skinned and don't have a sense of humour, they are going to spend their lives with a massive chip on their shoulders.

I've been called many things in my years of writing about politics, but that descended to a new low this week when remarks of mine last week were branded “vile and offensive.”

Julie Young, Labour's only Essex county councillor, took exception to my light-hearted reasoning for why women MPs like to get only home early - because they can't operate video recorders for Coronation Street.

Since the Restoration, and especially from the time when Queen Anne reigned, the lampooning of pompous politicians and others in authority has been a part of the British political life.

Mrs Young may not appreciate satire, but that's her loss.

According to her: “It's wearing a bit thin with those of us who are less besotted by the Tories than he is. I am beginning to wonder who is paying his wages and am rapidly coming to the conclusion that it must be David Cameron himself.”

Just how a light hearted comment about women Labour MPs can be interpreted as proving that I'm subliminally besotted with the Tories is best left to the supper parties of the dwindling band of Labour supporters in Colchester.

She adds: “How offensive and absolutely ridiculous it is to suggest the timing of sessions of parliament to a morning start were changed so Labour members could get home to watch Coronation Street because they could not work out how to record the programme, well wasn't that funny Graham!”

Rhubarb! I have no intention of wavering from my belief that Cameron has the potential to be a good prime minister - but that's a long way short of encouraging people to vote for him.

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