Michael Brown: This is not all down to the Corfu kerfuffle

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The Independent Online

While it would be an over simplification to suggest that George Osborne's cavortings in Corfu are entirely responsible for the Tory slide, they have clearly had an effect on our latest poll. The saga reinforces voters' perceptions that the Cameron project is more concerned about the ambitions and careers of a rich, public school-educated elite than with the lives of ordinary voters.

With unemployment, house repossessions and recession staring voters in the face, this should be the Tories' moment. But it looks as though the Osborne affair has left a nasty taste in voters' mouths. Most people expect their political leaders to show frugality at a time of economic downturn. The affair resurrected photographic reprints in the press of Mr Osborne's membership of the Oxford Bullingdon Club, complete with Little Lord Fauntleroy outfit – reminding voters of the privileged backgrounds of those atop the party.

This contrasted sharply with the sober, Calvinist style of Mr Brown and Mr Darling. And on the very day the economy slipped into recession, Mr Osborne was still being kept locked in a cage at Tory HQ when he should have been making merry hell on TV over Labour's economic failure.

This recent distraction does not account entirely, however, for all the Conservative slippage in this poll. The Tories have failed for weeks to find their voice on the financial woes afflicting the nation. Since the party conference one month ago, Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne have ceded the political initiative to Mr Brown and Mr Darling – who now lead most poll ratings on which team is best trusted to sort out the economy.

First the Tories tried the "shoulder to shoulder with the government" approach – typical of oppositions that do not have an alternative policy but are fearful of not looking "statesmanlike". When that was abandoned, days later, the logical conclusion of voters would obviously have been that the banking crisis must be over – and therefore satisfactorily handled by the Government.

The Tories should be worried if they cannot maintain substantial poll leads at the very moment voters are about to pay the price of 11 years of New Labour. But the Cameron mantra of "sharing the proceeds of economic growth between tax cuts and public spending" is redundant when the economy is in recession. However, fearful of being trapped again as the party of cuts, the Tories are frightened to spell out the obvious truth that Mr Brown's resort to Keynesian pump-priming will be a failure. Neither Mr Cameron nor Mr Osborne has the courage to present an alternative economic policy because it is becoming obvious they do not have one.