Magazine article The Spectator

Leading Article: Cameron's Winning Hand

Magazine article The Spectator

Leading Article: Cameron's Winning Hand

Article excerpt

Almost exactly five years ago, the Conservatives fired the starting gun for a general election -- and shot themselves in the foot. 'We can't go on like this,' said the poster, next to a picture of an airbrushed David Cameron. 'I'll cut the deficit, not the NHS.' What on earth did it mean? No one seemed sure. As early as January 2010, it was horribly clear: here was a muddled party, preparing to fight an election campaign with a muddled message. Little wonder it ended in a muddled election result.

This time, it should be different. The Tories have a professional, Lynton Crosby, running their campaign. He should be able to point out the basics: a clear message is required, and it needs to be repeated. He is unlikely to be fooled by the received wisdom that this year's general election will belong to the small parties. Labour and the Tories still have about two thirds of the vote, according to today's polls, just as they did at the general election. The collapse of the Liberal Democrats has allowed peculiar phenomena such as the rise of the Greens. Overall, however, this election remains very winnable.

Anyone who believes that Ed Miliband is still cruising to victory has not kept their eye on Scotland. A Guardian /ICM poll, one of the last of 2014, suggests that Labour could lose all but three of its 41 Scottish seats to a resurgent SNP under the formidable Nicola Sturgeon. Even if she does nowhere near that well, she will still take more seats than Nigel Farage's Ukip. The SNP already has more members than Ukip and the Liberal Democrats combined. It is Sturgeon's party that is the new third force in British politics -- and its rise comes almost exclusively at Ed Miliband's expense.

Polls also show that Miliband is more unpopular in Scotland than elsewhere. His visits to Scotland during the referendum last year showed the sheer extent of the damage that he is capable of inflicting on his own party. All this bodes well for the Tories: David Cameron has his flaws, but he's a good campaigner. Miliband, by contrast, can turn a bacon sandwich into a debacle.

The Tory popular vote may languish at 32 per cent in the polls, compared with 36 per cent in 2010. But support for the governing party often grows as the election draws near and the Conservatives enjoy a significant advantage on the economy, which is improving by the month. Moreover, Cameron enjoys higher personal ratings than Miliband -- an advantage that can make all the difference, as when John Major unexpectedly kept out Neil Kinnock after a late swing in 1992.

If David Cameron is to remain Prime Minister, he will not do it by aping Ukip. …

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