Ten observations on the state of the election campaign
Although January was jittery the Tories should remain relatively hopeful about their prospects, if never complacent. Despite a few Tory wobbles the party remains at about 40% in all polls and Labour can't get above 30%. Labour hasn't actually been able to get above 30% since the end of 2007. The public appears to have made its mind up about Labour. Even a lead of 5%/6% may actually produce a Tory majority because voter projection models don't account for the factors I listed here.
We've now got solidity on Tory economic policy after some recalibration. Sunday's letter from twenty top economists backing early and decisive action on the budget deficit - and largely using spending cuts rather than tax rises - was a big boost for George Osborne.
The Left appear to be incapable of producing any new ideas. Unless, of course, you count Brown's attempt to fix the electoral system and Labour activists' endless (and, I admit, very funny) spoofing of Tory posters. The Tories remain creative where it matters. Stephan Shakespeare explained the biggest of ideas yesterday; Transparency. It has the potential to save tens of billions of pounds in the years ahead. The Sun and Guardian appear genuinely excited this morning about the Tory idea for co-ops. Credit must go to Jesse Norman for first doing the work on this.
Too many core Tories continue to misunderstand the Cameron project. It's quite simple. The party hasn't changed radically but it has broadened. We are still the party of Euroscepticism (never to the Euro), a tough approach to crime (elected police chiefs will be a major reform), low taxation (see pledges on council tax, corporation tax, taxation of married couples and inheritance tax) and controlled immigration (Cameron has promised to return immigration to the levels of the mid-1990s). But today we are also the party of social justice (and IDS' interpretation of this is very conservative), the environment (where I have faith in Greg Clark's pragmatism) and civil liberties (thanks to David Davis). It's true that it's not perfect but this election isn't a choice between a perfect Conservative Party and an imperfect Conservative Party but between a strong government led by David Cameron and the chaos of a hung parliament.
We have to win over new voters. That's what yesterday's good Tory posters were about. They reinforce the idea that today's Conservative Party is different. And it is.
What is The Daily Mail playing at? The Mail continues to give Labour too much space and the Tories too much agro. Stephen Glover recently wrote a ridiculous article, suggesting that the Conservatives didn't have any policies. Does Paul Dacre really want another five years of a Labour Government and all it means for the tax burden, the family and immigration? He sometimes gives the impression that he does. A time for choosing is coming, Mr Dacre, and we could do with the help of your important newspaper now.
The BBC, Sky and Guardian continue to act together in their anti-Ashcroft agenda. Where is the questioning of Labour politicians about the business affairs of the big Labour donors? George Osborne has begun to fight back and Guido Fawkes has turned his attention to Lord Paul. I wonder if a Tory MP had accused Labour of being scum-sucking pigs he would have had quite so little press attention as Labour's whip, David Wright. Well done to Jonathan Sheppard of ToryRadio for instigating that story.
Tories continue to underplay immigration. As the second most important issue for voters I think it has the potential to move us from one nil up to two nil. Timing is important (it has to be done from a position of opinion poll strength) but we should define the immigration cap soon. Cameron has the moral authority that Michael Howard was perceived to lack to talk about immigration without frightening moderates.
The debates loom. I remain worried about the election debates and the opportunity they give to Nick Clegg. Not because I don't have faith in David Cameron but occasionally even Manchester United loses a game to the likes of Leeds. The debates remain, for me, the last big hurdle that the Conservative campaign must navigate.
I hope some lessons are being learnt behind-the-scenes. At times (most of the time) the CCHQ machine is good. Look at the rapid production of last week's Death Tax Poster. At other times it embarasses as with yesterday's stats blunder. I hope Team Cameron are noting the weaknesses in the machine and have a plan to put them right if they enter government.