Andrew Grice: Dig a little deeper and it's been a good week for the Tories

Inside Westminster: Unusually, more than half of voters could be described as ‘don’t knows’ or floaters

Share
Related Topics

The political row over the bank rate-rigging scandal has improved the mood in Downing Street. An over-excited George Osborne may have gone a bit over the top with his allegations about Ed Balls's role in urging Barclays to keep down the Libor rate, claims the Chancellor has not yet been able to substantiate. But No 10 judges that the controversy will result in a net benefit for the Conservatives.

The scandal happened on Labour's watch. Never mind that the Tories at the time were demanding even lighter City regulation; anything that reminds voters about Labour's economic record can only hinder its efforts to regain economic credibility, Cameron aides say.

I am not so sure. While the Barclays revelations may have fuelled public anger about bankers, people will look to the current government to stop a repeat of the sort of unacceptable behaviour that Ed Miliband condemned last year – before it was fashionable to do so.

However, there is relief in Downing Street that the latest banking controversy has shifted media attention away from government U-turns. By clearing up the messy leftovers of a badly-cooked Budget, Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne hope the damage has been contained – crucially, before it translates into weakness and incompetence, labels that are very difficult to unpin. "We feel we have turned a corner," one close Cameron ally said.

Another reason to be cheerful is the latest private polling for the Conservatives. It raised the spirits when it was presented to the 1922 Committee of Tory MPs last week by Andrew Cooper, No 10's director of strategy and the founder of the polling company Populus. He argues that the headline poll figures, giving Labour a healthy lead, do not reflect the nation's underlying mood.

Mid-term blues that afflict most governments do not mean they are heading for defeat, he says. Only one in three people polled say they will definitely vote the same way at the next election – probably not until May 2015 – as they would today. Unusually, more than half (54 per cent) of voters could be described as "don't knows" or floaters.

Although Mr Miliband's personal ratings have improved, people still prefer Mr Cameron by a big majority as prime minister when they are pushed to choose, as they will be in 2015. Even one in four current Labour supporters regards Mr Cameron as the best man for the job.

Similarly, the economic news seems all bad for the Government, but when Mr Cooper drills down, he finds some grounds for hope. While the public expects things can only get worse before they get better, they blame the banks, the eurozone and Labour more than the Coalition. People are surprised when they are told a quarter of the deficit has been cleared, and hopeful that their sacrifices might be worth it.

The Tories' challenge, Mr Cooper told the party's MPs, was to show they were on the side of "people who work hard and want to get on" – a pretty good target group since 91 per cent of people regard themselves as in it. And two out of three people feel the Tories stand for this huge aspirational class – although the party still needs to prove it.

The polling shaped Mr Cameron's recent speech on welfare, where he floated another raft of controversial reforms in a deliberate pitch to the aspirational class. "In the current climate, you can't be tough enough on welfare," one Tory minister smiled.

Significantly, Cameron aides conceded that many of his welfare ideas could not be implemented before the next election because the Lib Dems would not support them. The PM was taking a leaf out of Nick Clegg's book by "differentiating" his party from its Coalition partner, as the Lib Dems do regularly.

However, Mr Cameron can't "differentiate" all the time. After all, he is the Prime Minister and people expect him to lead. Mr Clegg is not. Tacking right on other issues might leave the centre ground free for the Lib Dems and/or Labour. Mr Cameron must perform a difficult balancing act. But the Tory polling suggests the next election is wide open.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Developer - Sheffield - £35,000 ~ £40,000 DOE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

Employment Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Day In a Page

 

Opponents of Israel's military operation in Gaza are the real enemies of Middle Eastern peace

Gabriel Sassoon
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride