The influential Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft has blamed David Cameron for the party’s failure to open up an opinion poll lead over Labour, as the election heads for a draw that could put Ed Miliband in Downing Street.
The former Tory deputy chairman, who is now a pollster, asserts that some people who prefer Mr Cameron to Mr Miliband are deciding to vote Labour, as the Labour leader performs better than voters and the Tories expected. Writing in The Independent he says: “Far from crumbling, Miliband has shown a good deal of resilience in the face of some rather unseemly attacks.”
His comments come as the Tories’ hopes of a breakthrough are dashed by the latest “poll of polls” for The Independent, which shows that the two biggest parties remain deadlocked. They are both on 33 per cent, with Ukip on 14 per cent, the Liberal Democrats on 8 per cent and the Greens on 5 per cent.
As the electoral map favours Labour, such a result would give the party 293 seats to the Tories’ 270, putting Mr Miliband in pole position to become prime minister in a hung parliament.
After a week dominated by Tory attacks on the dangers of a Labour government propped up by the Scottish National Party, Lord Ashcroft warns: “Too much emphasis on the opposing leader’s weaknesses (or, in this case, the deals he may or may not do to get himself into office) suggests to voters that a party can’t have much to say for itself.” He also says that Labour appears to be winning the “ground war” in the constituencies. The Tory peer declines to join criticism of Lynton Crosby, the Australian strategist running the Tory campaign, whose repeated predictions that the party would move ahead in the polls have failed to materialise.
Instead, Lord Ashcroft lays the blame at Mr Cameron’s door, saying: “Rather than relying on the identity of their leader and the risks of change, the Tories over the last five years ought to have laid the foundations for a campaign in which they could talk confidently about their plans for public services, and to describe a Conservative vision of opportunity and prosperity for all.”
But Labour suffered a setback yesterday when Mr Miliband made a tactical retreat after suggesting Mr Cameron was partly to blame for the deaths of migrants in the Mediterranean because he failed to plan for the aftermath of the UK-backed air strikes on Libya, which helped to overthrow Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. Hundreds of migrants from Libya have drowned trying to cross to Europe in recent weeks.
After a rare foreign affairs speech aimed at enhancing his credentials as a prime minister-in-waiting, Mr Miliband was accused by the Tories of a “provocative and shameful intervention” which showed he was not fit for the post.
Election Analysis: The Key Voters
Election Analysis: The Key Voters
1/6 Settled Silvers
These are the comfortably-off over-60s, still in work or drawing a decent pension – or both – who are enjoying their entitlements such as the Winter Fuel Allowance, free bus passes and free TV licence. They are worried about immigration and Europe. Both the Conservatives – who are pledging to keep benefits for wealthier pensioners – and Ukip want their votes
2/6 Squeezed Semis
Slightly older than the Harassed Hipsters, they are the second key group for Labour’s family-focused election strategy. They are married couples on low to middle incomes who own unpretentious semi-detached homes in suburban areas. In 2001, these were the Pebbledash People sought by the Conservatives. Now the pebbledash is gone and a modest conservatory has been built at the back
3/6 Aldi Woman
In 1997 and 2001 she was Worcester Woman – a middle-class Middle Englander shopping at Marks & Spencer and Waitrose. Today, the age of austerity means she still goes to Waitrose for her basic food shop but cannily switches to Aldi for her luxury bargains such as Parma ham and prosecco. Identified by Caroline Flint, she is a key target of both Labour and the Conservatives
4/6 Glass Ceiling Woman
In her thirties or forties, she has an established career under her belt, perhaps in the “marzipan layer” – one position below the still male-dominated senior executive level. She is now, according to Nick Clegg, forced into making the “heart-breaking choice” between staying at home to bring up her children and going to work and forking out for high-cost, round-the-clock childcare
5/6 Harassed Hipsters
One of the two key groups identified by Labour as crucial to hand Ed Miliband the keys to Downing Street. Well-paid professional couples, often with children, they live in diverse urban and metropolitan areas rather than the suburbs. More comfortably off than most swing voters, they are time poor – struggling to balance raising a young family with busy work schedules
These are mainly first-time voters, though some are in their twenties – students and digital-age generation renters helping to fuel the “Green Surge”. Idealists, but with no tribal loyalty to any party, they are anti-austerity, middle class, living in urban areas. Despite studying at university or recently graduated, they are struggling to find decent jobs and want cheaper housing and a higher minimum wage
The Labour leader faced media questions over whether he was accusing Mr Cameron of having “blood on his hands”.
Mr Miliband replied: “Anyone who reads my speech would see that that is very, very wide of the mark. The only people trying to whip up a big storm about this are the Conservative Party.
“I am making a very important point, I believe, about post-conflict planning in Libya. The international community as a whole, including our Government, bears some responsibility for the crisis we see in Libya. I think that is undeniable. As far as what is happening in terms of the tragic scenes of people drowning in the Mediterranean, that is a result of the people traffickers who are engaged in those issues.”
Labour officials accused the Tories of “a deliberately and wilful misinterpretation of Ed’s words to dodge their record on foreign policy”.
Mr Cameron said: “I have learned as Prime Minister that it is so important in a dangerous and uncertain world that you show clarity, consistency and strength on these foreign policy issues. People will look at these ill-judged remarks and they will reach their own conclusions.”
George Osborne, the Chancellor, said Mr Miliband was “not up to the job”, adding: “To try to score political points out of deaths of migrants in the Mediterranean is pretty demeaning and shows a real lack of judgement.” Liam Fox, the Tory former Defence Secretary, accused Mr Miliband of “trying to weaponise drowning migrants”.
Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, said it was “pretty distasteful to reduce this total human tragedy, hundreds of people dying in the Mediterranean, to a political point-scoring blame game”.
Meanwhile, Labour seized on HSBC’s announcement yesterday that it may move its headquarters from London, with Hong Kong seen as the front-runner.
The bank blamed “regulatory and structural reform” to banking in the UK. But Labour pointed to HSBC citing uncertainty about Britain’s position in the EU because of Mr Cameron’s pledge of an in/out referendum by 2017.
The Independent has got together with May2015.com to produce a poll of polls that produces the most up-to-date data in as close to real time as is possible.
Click the buttons below to explore how the main parties' fortunes have changed: