John Curtice: Cameron must show he can depose Brown

Share
Related Topics

At first glance, today's local elections look like a heaven-sent opportunity for David Cameron. Our latest monthly "poll of polls" gives his party a record 10-point lead over Labour. So surely he can look forward to a night of substantial Conservative gains?

But there will be a nagging worry in his mind as the polls close. Will his party do well enough to suggest that it really looks capable of deposing Labour from power? He cannot really be sure of achieving that.

In part, his problem lies in history. Most of the seats up for grabs this year were last contested in 2004. Labour might still have been narrowly ahead of the Conservatives in the polls at the time, but the party's local election performance that year was woeful. It won the equivalent of just 26 per cent of the national vote.

Labour even managed to do somewhat better than this in last year's local elections, even though it was by then on just 30 per cent in our poll of polls, seven points behind the Conservatives. So there is no guarantee that the party will do any worse tomorrow than it did four years ago, even if it has fallen back again to just 30 per cent in the polls.

However, even if Labour does not fall back itself, there should still be modest Conservative gains. After all, at 40 per cent the party's local election performance was two points up on what it achieved in 2004. Simply repeating that performance should be sufficient to ensure that most of the councils on our list of "top Tory prospects" fall into the party's hands. So failure to do so would suggest the party has actually made a step backwards – as would significant losses among the rather large number of councils on our "Tory disappointment" list, where the party is vulnerable to a modest adverse swing.

What Mr Cameron wants to demonstrate is that he has actually moved forward over the past 12 months. The polls still give the impression that although the Government is now deeply unpopular, the electorate are still unsure whether to embrace the Tories as an alternative. The party is struggling to push its support consistently above the 40 per cent mark. It is even far from clear thatit has managed to extend its poll lead in the wake of Labour's furious row about the abolition of the 10p tax rate.

So Mr Cameron's real aim is to win more than the 40 per cent of the equivalent national vote he secured last year, and in so doing extend the gap between himself and Labour. If he can win 42 or 43 per cent, he will be able to claim that he has matched some of the performances that Labour achieved in the run-up to its victory in the 1997 general election – and that his course really is set fair for Downing Street.

Such a performance would imply making substantial inroads into our "real Tory advance?" list. These are councils where the swing the Tories need to win implies the party is doing better than last year. Perhaps the biggest prize of all would be Bury – just the kind of northern town the party needs to be able to do well in if it is to win a general election. Do not be surprised if Mr Cameron hopes to be able to spend Friday there celebrating victory in front of the television cameras.

Of course, Mr Cameron is not the only opposition leader who needs to do well today. So does Nick Clegg, in his first electoral outing as party leader for the Liberal Democrats. But his task looks even more formidable. Although his party's poll of polls rating has stabilised at 18 per cent, it is still no better than it was last year and is three points down on the position in 2004 – one of its best local election performances ever. As a result, Mr Clegg is likely to struggle to avoid losing ground to the Tories.

John Curtice is professor of politics at Strathclyde University

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £38,000

£16000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Parts Sales Advisor - OTE 18k-23k

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of Ford's leading Parts Who...

SThree: Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: Do you want to learn ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

No wonder 1,000 women a year are getting abortions because of extreme morning sickness. When I was suffering, my doctor said it would 'cure' me

Jo Crosby
 

Election catch-up: It looks more and more as if we should get used to Prime Minister Miliband

John Rentoul
Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders