Tory leader pledges 'real grit' in the face of lower poll ratings

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Indy Politics

David Cameron's honeymoon is over. His personal ratings are falling as the euphoria over his election as Tory leader a year ago today fades, and his party's showing in the opinion poll is no higher than it was then.

A lot has been achieved in his first year. Cabinet ministers admit he is proving the greatest threat to Labour since it came to power in 1997. The Tory brand is no longer contaminated in the voters' eyes. It is no longer fanciful to imagine the Tories winning the next general election. A year ago, it was.

And yet some senior Tories are concerned the party has not opened up a bigger poll lead over Labour in what has been a difficult year for the governing party.

Those fears will be heightened by The Independent's latest monthly "poll of polls", which shows the Tories only three points ahead of Labour. It puts Mr Cameron's party on 36 per cent (down one point on the previous month), Labour on 33 per cent (unchanged) and the Liberal Democrats on 19 per cent (up one point). If repeated at the next election, there would be a hung parliament. Labour would be the biggest party with 304 seats, the Tories 264, the Liberal Democrats 50 and other parties 32.

In December last year, the Tories averaged 37 per cent in the polls by ICM, Ipsos-Mori, Populus and YouGov - one point more than last month - with Labour on 35 per cent and the Liberal Democrats on 20 per cent.

The figures were compiled by John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University, who said: "Mr Cameron's election as leader brought his party an immediate boost in its poll rating. Labour's misfortunes in the spring helped him to consolidate a gain... But Mr Cameron's party finds itself no more popular now than it was immediately on his becoming leader. Its consistent lead since April is a product of Labour weakness rather than any major advance in the Conservatives' popularity."

Professor Curtice said the Tory leader's popularity had declined during his year in the job. In January, Mori found 31 per cent satisfied with his leadership and 17 per cent dissatisfied. Now those figures are 25 per cent and 31 per cent, his worst reading yet. Professor Curtice said Mr Cameron must be concerned that 34 per cent of people do not have a clear view about him.

Yesterday Mr Cameron promised to show some "real grit" as he mapped out how his party would change Britain for the better. He told the BBC: "I do not want to make the mistake Blair and Brown made when they got into power - they didn't know what they wanted to do when it came to our hospitals and our schools."

Mr Cameron admits he still has a mountain to climb.

Some traditionalists are demanding a change of course - notably a tougher line on law and order. But he is convinced he is on track and is warning his party that he is not going to change direction. He believes he won a mandate for change a year ago, and is going to deliver it.

Mr Cameron, who is often accused of copying Mr Blair's opposition playbook, is seen as "all spin, no substance" by his critics - among them Gordon Brown. But a Cameron aide said: "If Brown thinks David is all public relations, he is making a very big mistake."

As Mr Blair told a party critic who urged him to ditch New Labour in 2001: "It's worse than you think. I really do believe in it."

The verdict

Lisa Wainwright, 36, Sports Manager, from Yorkshire

'I think Cameron's trying his best but it's a hell of a lot of spin. He's actually got a very good image: young and fresh-faced but he's just a bit too squeaky clean. I'd like to see him clearer on specific policies rather than being so generic. We need to see more detail on foreign policy, on education, on obesity and on the health service.'

Sir Robert Worcester, founder of Mori

'David Cameron started with more than 50 per cent who said they didn't know enough about him to say whether they were satisfied or dissatisfied with his performance as leader of the Conservative Party. As people have made up their minds over the past year, more say they are dissatisfied than satisfied. He is following the same pattern as William Hague, Ian Duncan Smith and Michael Howard. From 1994 to 1997, Tony Blair, as leader of the Labour Party in the opposition, went the other way and hit over 50 per cent satisfied. David Cameron is now below 30 per cent with the public generally and has only 45 per cent of intending Conservative voters saying they are happy with the way he is doing his job.'

Guillaume Roderick, 26, Computer Programmer, from London

'I don't think much of David Cameron. He's impressive but where are the policies? Blair has set the precedent but I find Cameron worrying; he did that thing on MySpace and YouTube, no one is going to vote for that. It's all about foreign policy for me. You don't know what they're going to do until they get in and then it's too late. The Tories may get elected. They don't appear to be as big a bunch of liars as the Labour Party.'

Mark Borkowski, PR Expert

'I think he has reinvigorated the battle for voice in the media. The Tories lost so much ground, and so many of their leaders have been dullards when it comes to communication. Cameron has a hell of a lot of style. He has been ahead of the game, on green issues, signing up people such as Zac Goldsmith, all very powerful in terms of making Labour think, 'We have a fight on our hands'. He's been seeing celebrities and doing lunches and dinners with influential people. There's a freshness to it, but whether it's ultimately changing root and branch Conservatives in the Shires is the real question. To me, his image feels like a film set: you see a bright building and you go behind it to find it's propped up with sticks. When it comes to the hand-to-hand fighting of an election, he's got to be more than just a pretty face.'

Ian Shaw, 41, Company Director, from London

'An alternative to Labour would be good, but Cameron reminds me too much of Tony Blair. He says all the right things but there's not enough substance. I would consider the Conservatives against all my principles. I've never seen the Tories doing anything for black people. Black people are swinging towards the Tories but I will need to see a bit more from Cameron. The crunch will be, when their policies come out, are they the same as Labour's?'

Claire Beale, Editor 'Campaign'

'I think David Cameron has been successful in rejuvenating the image of the Tory party and positioning it for the digital age. His first uses of advertising have been ground-breaking. And the webcam experiment giving an insight into his daily life also played well. All of these strategies will have raised the party's profile with younger voters, probably without alienating too many older supporters. The party feels younger and more vibrant under Cameron.'

Arifa Akbar and Milena Vercellino

Six highs

* Makes bright start at Prime Minister's Questions, telling Tony Blair: "You were the future once"

* Turns the tables on Labour over the National Health Service, traditionally a Labour issue

* Wins 40 per cent share of the vote in May's local authority elections

* Begins to change the face of his party; 36 per cent of the parliamentary candidates that are selected under the A-list system are women

* Wrong-foots Labour on education by backing its schools reforms

* Sets the agenda on the environment, forcing Labour to bring in a Climate Change Bill

Six lows

* Green credentials questioned after it emerged his chauffeur-driven car followed him when he cycled to Westminster

* 'Hug a hoodie' speech backfires, allowing Labour to portray Tories as 'soft' on crime

* Breaks his pledge to pull Tory MEPs out of European People's Party, main centre-right group in European Parliament

* Poor performance in Bromley and Chislehurst by-election, almost beaten by Liberal Democrats

* Launches 'tosser' advert about people in debt at a time when the Conservative Party is £27m in the red

* Upsets business leaders by pulling out of a CBI conference at the last minute to visit Iraq.