Tory Chief: We Can Defy Polls and Win; PARTY CHAIRMAN LIAM FOX PREPARES FOR A SNAP ELECTION IN APRIL
Byline: JOE MURPHY
TORY chairman Liam Fox today ordered his troops to get ready for a surprise general election on 21 April.
He told the Standard he is convinced Tony Blair is getting ready to "cut and run" with a snap poll.
His alert came a day after Labour election coordinator Alan Milburn raised eyebrows by publishing the party's slogan, a full three months before the widely expected date for Polling Day of 5 May.
In an exclusive interview, Dr Fox revealed for the first time the private analysis by Conservative polling experts which he claims shows they can defy the polls and oust Mr Blair.
He denied persistent reports that the Tory campaign is riven with infighting, revealing that he lends his wife's car to election guru Lynton Crosby to go shopping, saying it proves they are firm friends.
Dr Fox also said the Conservatives were determined to keep immigration at the centre of their campaign.
"I believe there are a number of reasons why Labour needs to get this election out of the way early," he said.
"They are over-borrowing and it is becoming more apparent they have got to raise taxes.
Retail sales growth in the last quarter was the lowest for six years and mortgage approvals are 38 per cent down while mortgage arrears are growing.
"Council tax bills will be a nasty shock and a revaluation of business rates will kick in during April."
Dr Fox, 43, flips through screenfuls of computer data which all purport to explain why the Tory heart monitor is blipping away healthily.
His conclusions are the main thrust of a private presentation he will make today to shadow ministers and MPs.
If correct, the polls giving Labour a lead of up to eight points are completely wrong.
The real position, claims Dr Fox, is that the Tories are barely one per cent behind (enough to leave Mr Blair in charge of a hopelessly hung Parliament) and improving with enough momentum to put Michael Howard in Downing Street.
"The answer to why the Conservatives are not depressed by the polls is all in these charts," he says.
Before Christmas, Dr Fox flew to Washington where he met George Bush's campaign team, including polling guru Karl Rove.
From the Republicans he has borrowed a computer package called Voter Vault, alleged to have personal information on every voter in the party's 168 target seats. It links to a call centre taking up an entire floor of the party's new campaign headquarters in Victoria Street and to other computers which will spew out millions of mailshots to targeted voters.
But in recent weeks the party has been beset by leaks of feuding. Mr Crosby, the campaign chief headhunted from Australia, has been embroiled in a turf war with Lord Saatchi, the co-chairman.
Dr Fox is at pains to say he is on good terms with Mr Crosby but confirmed that tensions exist.
"I keep reading this but it is as inaccurate as it is tiresome," he said. "I have the highest regard for Maurice (Saatchi) and Lynton, I like them both immensely.
"As for this stuff about us not talking, people should see our mobile phone bills. …