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No room for complacency but plenty of grounds for optimism

DCGOWARroom Somewhere, deep inside CCHQ is a room called complacency.  It is full of champagne, balloons and party hats but it's a room that is under strict lock and key until George Osborne decides otherwise.

Professor John Curtice and many other commentators are pouring cold water on the Conservative Party's electoral performance of recent days.  'Not quite good enough' is the conclusion of talking heads across the media.  Tory strategists don't mind.  They don't like any complacent talk of victory.  They want every Conservative activist and donor to strain every sinew until the last polls have closed on General Election day.  This caution comes from two decades of losing elections.  Most of the people who advise David Cameron have tasted defeat too many times in the years since 1987 to quite believe that victory is sure.  Over recent days their attention has turned to the Norwich North by-election.  They are conscious that they are now battling against inflated expectations as much as Labour.

All this aside, Thursday's elections do give the Conservative Party many grounds for optimism.

IMG_2836 In the wake of expenses-gate they were relieved that the Conservative Party's share of the vote actually went up in the European Elections.  [Pictured on the right is David Cameron in Wales earlier today where the Conservatives topped the poll. Mr Cameron is photographed (by Mark Jones) with Welsh Tory leader Nick Bourne and new MEP, Kay Swinburne].

But if the European Elections were a little messy but Cameron and George Osborne are determined not to be spooked by UKIP.  They saw Michael Howard knocked off course by UKIP's success in 2004 but they also saw that it did not translate into anything at the following year's General Election. 

What gives the Tory leadership most confidence is the county council results.  CCHQ believes that the county council contests are a more accurate indicator of the outcome of the next General Election. Unlike the European Elections they were first-past-the-post contests fought largely between the three established parties.  In Bedfordshire, Lancashire, Nottinghamshire, Staffordshire and Derbyshire the Conservatives fought Labour head on and won convincingly.  Even more encouraging were the head-to-head victories against the Liberal Democrats across the west country.  CCHQ believes that it now has the campaign machinery and moderation of message to significantly erode the Liberal Democrats' parliamentary representation.  The decline of the Liberal Democrats was hugely under-reported at the weekend.  Even their 'victory' in Bristol masked a decline in the percentage of Bristolians voting for Nick Clegg's party.

Tory strategists also know that Labour has ceased to exist as a meaningful campaigning force in large parts of the country.  Eric Pickles has a two to one rule.  Every lost councillor actually means the loss of that councillor's husband/ wife/ friend too as a party activist.  Labour finished fifth in many parts of the country on Thursday, it's poisonously divided at Westminster, up to its neck in debt, and without a policy vision.  The Conservatives have a year to go but they have good reason to be cheerful.

Tim Montgomerie


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