Michael Brown: Tories still dogged by 'rich toffs' image

Voters have lost trust in politics – not just the Government

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"Yes, but..." That seems to be the conclusion of voters at the prospect of a Tory Government led by David Cameron in 135 days time – assuming a general election on 6 May. Voters' responses to the latest ComRes poll for The Independent show that the Tory leader has still not "sealed the deal" with the electorate.

The headline lead of 9 points suggests a hung Parliament with the Tories five seats short of an overall majority. The good news for Mr Cameron is that Labour's rating is precisely the same as the that of John Major's government in the run-up to the 1997 election. The bad news is that, whereas the Labour opposition scored between 45 and 50 per cent, Mr Cameron is struggling, on the evidence of this poll, to reach 40 per cent.

So the country feels as bad about Gordon Brown as it did about John Major, yet is uncomfortable about the possibility of a Tory government. Voters universally wanted the Tories out in 1997 – and were universally prepared to vote for the opposition. The difference now is that Mr Cameron has lost 10 per cent of the anti-government vote to "other" parties. Their total never exceeded 5 per cent in 1997. His task is still to persuade the voters who are prepared to vote green, BNP or UKIP to vote Tory.

So what is the explanation for Mr Cameron's failure to connect with the electorate? The events of the past year, following on from the expenses scandal, have taken their toll on the Opposition just as much as on the Government. When sleaze wrecked trust in the Major government, people still had faith in politics; and the opposition party was seen as a trustworthy alternative to the Tories. This time, however, voters have lost trust in politics – not just the Government. And this hurts Mr Cameron just as much as it hurts Mr Brown.

But it is the unappealing nature of the Tory alternative that should really worry Mr Cameron. For all the husky and hoody hugging of the past four years, the perception is still of a bunch of out-of-touch rich toffs who would put their city friends before the protection of frontline public services. While this is unfair it is ironic that the issue of "image", which Mr Cameron has spent most of his four-year leadership trying to change, remains his biggest problem.

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