Tories ask questions as 'Victor Meldrew' strategy fails in polls

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Indy Politics

Some senior Tories are questioning Michael Howard's strategy after the party's summer offensive against the Government failed to give it a much-needed boost in the opinion polls. Tory modernisers are worried that Mr Howard appears to have reverted to a traditional Tory agenda instead of trying to broaden the party's appeal as he did when he became leader in November.

Some senior Tories are questioning Michael Howard's strategy after the party's summer offensive against the Government failed to give it a much-needed boost in the opinion polls. Tory modernisers are worried that Mr Howard appears to have reverted to a traditional Tory agenda instead of trying to broaden the party's appeal as he did when he became leader in November.

They fear he risks repeating the mistakes of his predecessors, William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith, who were accused of "preaching to the converted" rather than wooing floating voters. In recent weeks, the Tories have focused on issues such as crime, political correctness, mobile telephone masts, speed limits, red tape and government waste, rather than health and education.

Critics called it "the Victor Meldrew approach" after Mr Howard devoted a speech on Thursday to attacking government-inspired political correctness. They fear it will not resonate with many voters the Tories need to win over, especially younger ones, and will rekindle memories of Mr Howard's record as a minister, when he was seen as a hardline and unsympathetic figure.

The concerns were heightened by a YouGov opinion poll yesterday showing the Tories neck and neck with Labour on 34 per cent, and the Liberal Democrats on 21 per cent. A year ago under Mr Duncan Smith, the same pollsters put the Tories on 37 per cent, two points ahead of Labour. Yesterday's poll showed that, despite the Government's problems, more voters (33 per cent) regard Tony Blair as the best prime minister than Mr Howard (23 per cent). Labour is seen as the best party to handle economic difficulties, in a reversal of last year's position.

Although Labour's trust rating has plummeted since the last general election, a majority of people (57 per cent) do not think a Tory government would be honest and trustworthy.

David Curry, a former minister who left the Shadow Cabinet earlier this year, said yesterday that the Tories were not getting a clear message across. He told the e.Politix website: "Michael Howard has done very well with policies on health and other areas but we haven't yet brought everything together into a single simple, resonant message. We haven't yet got a tune that everyone can hum along to when they're disillusioned with Labour."

Tory strategists insisted that the poll was bad for the Government and showed there is still all to play for at the election. Dismissing the criticism of Mr Howard's approach, they said that the themes of the summer campaign were not populist but would strike a chord with many voters. The Tories did not expect a dramatic breakthrough during August, when many voters "switch off" from politics. "We are plugging away about real issues that people are bothered about and we hope it will pay off in the long term," said one source.

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