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I was pleased but not surprised to read about the new Guardian ICM poll this morning. Seven points behind the Tories before the short campaign isn’t ideal. But it’s a far cry from the 1997 moment that the Tories have been hoping for. The fact that the Tories have yet to seal the deal, loses none if its salience, however many times it is said. Even in Cheltenham, a place that many people think must be true blue (it isn’t – the Liberals have held it since 1992), local people remain skeptical about Cameron and his clan. So why is that?
The challenge that the Tories face is that their greatest asset is also their Achilles heal. There is no denying that David Cameron is a slick presenter. He has turned the Tory image round from depths of the ‘wink wink nudge nudge’ days of Michael Howard and the ‘are you thinking what we’re thinking?’ 2005 campaign. But four years on and that image has become confused. David now has a split personality, stern ‘age of austerity’ Mr Cameron one day, joyous ‘let the sun shine’ Dave the next.
Andy Coulson famously said of Tory spin that if David doesn’t say it it simply isn’t news. Well David’s said a lot. But little of it has been consistent. On the doorstep in Cheltenham and across the country people are telling Labour activists that they simply don’t know what the Tories stand for.
With only a few months left until the election, it’s beginning to dawn on them that they probably never will.
Following the backlash to the airbrushed image of Cameron, The Tories have taken a different tack with their new posters – there’s no David Cameron in sight. But they know, and as the poll confirmed today, that he remains more popular than his party. As polling day approaches and the media spotlight grows even more the tightrope that Cameron has been walking will become even less stable. There’s no denying that Labour remain underdogs. But if we stand firm while Dave wobbles there may just be an upset.
James is Labour PPC for Cheltenham