Friday, October 05, 2007

Blue bounce

Not a bad response from the polls for what has been a successful Tory conference. Cameron threw some raw meat to the right wing with the promises over inheritance tax and the EU treaty/constitution (*delete according to personal preference). The best that Labour can look at now is something between level pegging on 38% from the Guardian and a 3-4% lead elsewhere. Either is still enough for a majority for Labour, but would you want to bet the farm on those figures?

Is it enough to stop the election train thundering down the track? I'm not sure that it is.

I'll be interested to see what the weekend polls have to offer us once the initial Tory gains have settled. Although the fieldwork for these polls was carried out in the immediate aftermath of the Cameron speech, I can't rule out further gains for the Tories if the message sinks in and is received positively. Equally, this might be as good as it gets for them. I suspect that if the message from the marginal polling is good and the national polls offer up a 5% lead, then we're still on.

Gordon is slated to announce the long-awaited CrossRail project in London - the biggest construction project in northern Europe and we've still got the public spending round to cover on Monday. Whether he might decide to sit on a decision until later in the week to see how the media covers that story and whether there are more positives in the polling is a possibility - although that would rule out a 1st November election. Saturday 3 or Sunday 4 have been rumoured as possibilities, as has Nov 8. I doubt very much whether he'd want to go much further than that, so if it hasn't been called by Tuesday week, then we're on hold until next year at the earliest.

The alternative is to wait. Sure, the Tories would slam Gordon for 'bottling it' - but that would be a minor irritation for a few weeks. I doubt they could continue to make hay over it once the spring rolls round. He does have a couple of get-out clauses. If it were to be briefed out that the current problems with the post made the idea of an election with a significant number of postal votes and direct mailings impractical, or that he had listened to the civil servants' concerns about going before the new register is up and running, then that might help to defuse things.

Waiting has a downside. Lord Ashcroft is pumping money into the key marginals across the country and that has a cumulative effect, allowing effective campaigning from the Tories all year round. Going now reduces the likely effect and commits the Tories to another four or five years of graft. Also, being cynical - are the polls going to get any better? As has been pointed out, politicians are at the mercy of events and while Gordon has weathered the initial storms exceptionally well - indeed has been strengthened by the trials - that might not always be the case. Things are good right now - how will they look in eight months or two years? The Tories are still not fully ready to fight - now's the ideal time to defeat them before they can assemble something resembling a coherent policy. The LDs are in disarray, with polls as low as 13% (which underestimates their election performance), but if they are allowed to replace Ming (who is looking tired), then a fresh, new leader could change all that. That might even serve Labour, as the LDs are better placed in a number of Tory seats, particularly in the south east.

The upsides of waiting are also there - nobody wants to be out campaigning as the nights draw in and it is questionable whether the Labour vote will turn out in sufficient numbers as they might do in a spring round. A number of seats have yet to reselect - Hazel Blears, the little chipmunk of Salford, is still formally without a seat - and many local parties simply aren't where they need to be to get on with the job.

We'll see after the weekend.

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