The shadow Cabinet — which has been bypassed for most of Cameron’s tenure — is now being consulted. It met for more than two hours on Tuesday — after the Cameroon powwow in Notting Hill — and had, unusually, a proper discussion of the political situation. One member tells me that almost everyone spoke at the meeting. That this is considered news says a lot about how the shadow Cabinet is normally conducted.James Forysth's article tries to analyze the question of 'why has the Tory lead halved since December?' (my emphasis):
All of the most trusted members of Cameron’s inner circle were there — George Osborne, Steve Hilton, Andy Coulson, Michael Gove — but the atmosphere was not one of jubilation, or even excited determination. The predominant mood was despair. Osborne put their worries into words: What’s going wrong? he asked. Why are we slipping in the polls, even when Brown is so unpopular?Forysth makes some good points that the Tories have had a bad start to the year, they made some unforced errors, have lost momentum and don't seem to have a focused message:
All true but there's one subject that doesn't get mentioned.
Rather, it is to do with the campaign. The Labour message is clear and repeated while the Tory one is opaque. One shadow Cabinet member told me this week that he wished the Tories had a slogan as effective as Labour’s ‘a future fair for all’. Candidates report that voters can remember Labour policies but not Tory ones.
Even the party’s own press people complain — in private — about a lack of clarity. ‘Everyone struggles to articulate what we are really for,’ one told me. ‘We don’t really have a message or a purpose.’ When the salesmen believe they don’t really have a product, then they are much less likely to persuade the media or voters.
Here's the Tory lead over Labour since 1st January 2009 up to the latest poll, the vertical line indicates the 1st poll taken after 3rd November 2009.
Here's the Tory lead from 1st January to 3rd November 2009 with an added trend line. all pretty stable, the average lead over Labour is 14 points.
So lets do a comparison between 5 months before 3rd November and 5 months after. Below is 5 months before, slight downward trend nothing significant and the average lead is 14 points.
Then 5 months after the 3rd and...er...whoops, the trend line shows a marked and significant downward turn, the average lead has dropped to 10 points, and is still falling.
The 3rd November was of course the day when Cameron u-turned on a Lisbon referendum, which caused unhappiness at the time within his own party. It's notable also that 12 days after the 3rd the Tories' lead went down to 6 points for the first time in a nearly year (when the banking crisis hit), at the time it was dismissed as an outliner, but now looks to have been a sign of the trend to come.
Cameron has clearly taken a significant hit over Lisbon, though I still think he will scrape through; when voters' start thinking at the ballot box if they want 5 more years of Brown. But ironically by trying to avoid the EU issue Cameron has made a rebellion in his own party more, rather than less likely, because his majority will be smaller than it otherwise could have been.