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The Mail remains lukewarm in its support of the Conservatives but The Times appears ready to endorse Cameron

Nick Wood's daily High Noon column.

David Cameron will be pleased with the press coverage of yesterday's manifesto launch.

He is widely credited with bringing a lack-lustre contest to life and, in the words of The Daily Telegraph, giving us a Big Idea to tussle over.

He has also framed the terms of the debate - Big Society versus Big State - and one that works to his advantage.

To a greater or lesser extent, The Sun, Telegraph, Express, Mail and Times are all on board. Even The Guardian was generous about the Tory pitch.

"The new manifesto is a liberal Tory prospectus from a party which wants to capture the centre ground in an election it believes it can win," said its editorial.

The Times signalled that it will be supporting Cameron come polling day.

“Manifestos are expected to be boring. This one is not. It is thought-provoking, imaginative and intelligent."

"It is worldly, open-minded and peppered with ideas from other countries. It is pragmatic, but it is more than merely a ragbag of policies. In the parlous state of the economy and the public finances, there is an opportunity to unleash entrepreneurial spirit and reshape the State.

"In the Conservative Party there is a group of people making a powerful case that good government can cost less and do more.”

DAILY-MAIL The Mail will worry Cameron though. Outstripped only by The Sun in circulation terms, it is Middle England's favourite paper and one read most widely by women, generally reckoned to hold the key to the outcome of this election. No wonder that three female members of the Shadow Cabinet featured in yesterday's warm-up act for Cameron.

Once again the Mail does not put the Tories on page one. It doesn't even give him a front page picture - unlike the Express. And its leader is lukewarm by tabloid standards.

Family values lie at the heart of the Mail's identity, yet despite Cameron's enthusiastic backing for marriage and mending the Broken Society (another powerful Mail theme) all it can say in its editorial is that the Tory manifesto deserves a "fair hearing".

Another reading of what was once Fleet Street shows a nagging unease in its ranks over what it perceives to be a collective failure by the main political parties to come up with a credible and detailed plan for reducing the deficit.

The Lib Dems with their launch today are seeking to exploit and remedy this discontent, boasting that their manifesto is the only one to have the guts and honesty to address this critical shortcoming. But then again, they will never be asked to be their ideas into operation.

A page one comment in the Telegraph by economics editor Edmund Conway deplores the failure of both Labour and Conservatives to address the central issue - the "terrifying state of the public finances".

So should Osborne and Cameron go further in spelling out the cuts to come? That would be a major risk since it would trigger much Labour caterwauling about Tory cuts and pitch the campaign onto territory that has proved a winner for Brown over the last decade.

Cameron will have to drop a lot further in the polls before he contemplates venturing into this swamp.

Nick Wood

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