Tories cannot yet count on victory

CONSERVATIVES across the country must be feeling pretty chipper these days as the “Cameron effect” seems to be paying off with the party holding a decisive lead in opinion polls.

CONSERVATIVES across the country must be feeling pretty chipper these days as the “Cameron effect” seems to be paying off with the party holding a decisive lead in opinion polls.

It's the first time that has happened since the early days after the 1992 general election - before the disaster of Black Wednesday sent the party into a tailspin from which it is only now starting to recover.

But Tories I've spoken to in Suffolk are very wary about these signs of improvement - they are more optimistic than they have been for almost a decade and a half, but they've seen too many false dawns to let themselves get carried away.

And they're right to keep their feet on the ground - you cannot write off Labour's chances at the next election.

It's always dangerous to try to draw parallels between the past and the present - but it is often irresistible.

Looking back at the 18 years of Conservative government, the situation today does not remind me of 1993 when the wheels were really coming off the Tory bandwagon.

Most Read

It seems more like the situation in 88/89 when the government was becoming increasingly unpopular and the Tory leadership in particular was widely disliked.

Voters would vote Labour in by-elections - but were still not prepared to trust the party when it came to the general election three years later.

“We have to keep plugging on, persuading floating voters that they don't need to be afraid of us any more,” one Conservative told me. “But it will take longer than some of my friends think.”

Central to the Conservatives' problems is the fact that much of the harshest criticism of the Labour government comes from the Left - and those disillusioned voters are never going to vote Tory.

Once Tony Blair has been replaced by Gordon Brown - and whatever some commentators might speculate that remains as near to a political certainty as you'll find - there will be some return to the Labour fold among those from the left of the political spectrum.

And that will give Labour an edge once the next general election comes around - and that might well not be until 2010 rather than 2009.

My suspicion is that we are now at the mid-point of an 18-year Labour government, rather like the 18-year Conservative administration from 1979-97.

That doesn't mean that the country is enthusiastic about Labour anymore than it was enthusiastic about the Conservatives by the end of the 1980s.

It just means that we have now moved into an era when voters essentially feel: “better the devil you know!”

A 10-point opinion poll lead for a couple of months is not enough to persuade me that we're anywhere near moving to a point where the Conservatives can win the next election - look back at opinion polls of 1988-90. Labour was consistently ahead but after John Major replaced Margaret Thatcher, the Tories retained power in 1992.

The bookies still make Labour favourites to win the next general election - and they're the ones whose money is at stake if they get things wrong!

One thing's certain though - those who wrote off the Tories between 1997 and 2003 were very wide of the mark. When Labour does fall, it will be to the Conservatives.

IS THE game nearly up for the Liberal Democrats? Does the party have any point any longer?

The election of Sir Menzies Campbell earlier this year has hardly led to a new outbreak of dynamism within the party and I am left wondering what their role is on the national scene.

This week it announced that it would be pressing for a cut in income tax rates, paid for by increasing taxes on flying.

I'm sorry, but I cannot see how you can knock 2p in the pound off tax bills, simply by hitting cheap air fares. The air tax would have to be massive to make up the difference.

It seems that under Sir Menzies the Liberal Democrats are so terrified of losing seats to a resurgent Tory party that they are rushing to adopt right-wing tax-cutting policies that even the Conservatives acknowledge will be unrealistic at the next general election.

How does that square with the votes the party received from people looking for a left-wing alternative to Labour a year ago?

At a local level the Liberal Democrats have done a great deal to ensure that councils take care of the environment and certainly bring a moderating voice to the top table. Their influence at Civic Centre is considerable and they have helped ensure Ipswich council keeps its eye firmly on the needs of the ordinary resident.

But beyond town and county halls, what do the Liberal Democrats stand for these days? Frankly the party badly needs to re-establish an identity. How long can it survive by appealing to one bunch of voters that want to protest about Labour without voting Conservative and to another bunch of voters who want to protest about the Conservatives without voting Labour?

I HAVE enormous sympathy for those people concerned about proposals to build hundreds of new homes on Hayhill Allotments - but the struggle to keep the land undeveloped does look doomed.

This really is a difficult situation - while the site is wildlife-rich, it can hardly be described as a rare oasis because it is near the cemetery, teeming with life, and is not a million miles away from Christchurch and Alexandra Parks.

And the principle of building on the site was first mentioned in the late 1950s and confirmed just a few years ago.

Another factor to consider is that new homes are needed - although whether there is really a need for more high-density privately-owned homes is debatable.

The real need in Ipswich is for substantial family homes to rent - homes with gardens for young children to play in safely.

A development of 30 flats and a small playground isn't as good for families with pre-school children.

But that's all that seems to be on offer at present - it's a very tough call to decide what is best for the area.