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Labour is only 6% ahead but the Government's approval rating is minus 31%. Which is the important number?

By Tim Montgomerie
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There seems to be some better news in recent opinion polls. Labour's lead that had grown to 10% after the Budget has dropped back to about 6%. The underlying numbers are also comparatively good for the Conservative Party with more voters seeing the Conservative Party as willing to take tough decisions than Labour, for example, and also as having a good set of leaders. These numbers may encourage Downing Street to believe that they have less of a political headache than the frenzied coverage of the post-Budget period would suggest. And, yes, it has been frenzied and often over the top. But if Number 10 makes that conclusion they would be making the wrong call and not just because opinion polls go up and down.

YouGov publish two sets of important numbers every day - one is the headline voting intention and the other is the government approval rating. On the first set of numbers I've always been surprised that - at this stage in the cycle - the Tories have remained as competitive with Labour as we have. The explanation must, in part, be Labour's choice of leader and its failure to modernise its economic and fiscal policy. In contrast the Government's approval rating is poor. Perhaps it might not matter too much at this stage in the parliament but in the latest YouGov survey (PDF) only 27% approve of the Coalition's performance and 59% disapprove. These numbers suggest to me that if the opposition parties can get their act together the Conservative Party's strategic position is weaker than the headline voting intentions numbers suggest.

I set out my gloom in a piece in today's Guardian. Our continuing failure to develop a convincing narrative - particularly one that appeals to strivers. The fact that this is not going to be a conventional economic cycle with cuts actually getting bigger as the election draws nearer. The rise of UKIP splitting the centre right vote. The extraordinary hostility of centre right newspapers to Cameron. Our continuing weakness in Scotland. An accident-prone Downing Street operation. All of these and other factors make it hard to see how we are going to get from the 36% we won at the last election to the 40% plus we need to win the next election. No sitting PM has increased their vote share since Harold Wilson in 1974. This brings me back to the whole point of MajorityConservatism - unless we radically overhaul our party's message, machine and manifesto we won't win the next election. Next week we'll be publishing five more ideas that, I hope, you'll find encouraging.

For those readers who've had enough of my despondency please read Bruce Anderson today. We recruited Bruce to the ConHome team so that a pro-Cameron voice appears on our pages at least twice a week. He's in fantastic form today - rebutting my argument that Cameron should address UKIP specifically. Read him here.


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