Are the Tories in real trouble at Westminster?

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Labour has raced into a double-digit opinion poll lead as the Tories deal with fall-out from an unpopular Budget
Labour has raced into a double-digit opinion poll lead as the Tories deal with fall-out from an unpopular Budget Photo: Clara Molden/PA Wire

It hasn't been the best few weeks for the Tories. The budget may have gone down (largely) like a lead balloon, but the antics of the party's treasurer have rammed this fact home. The confluence of circumstances has left the impression that they were helping their rich friends in the budget because their rich friends have been helping them.

The polls seems to reflect this. So how worried should they be? Are we looking at a real shift in the tectonic plates at Westminster?

Lord Ashcroft, Sir Anthony Bamford and Michael Spencer donated more than £50,00 to the party
Lord Ashcroft, Sir Anthony Bamford and Michael Spencer donated more than £50,000 to the party Credit: PA Wire

Well, some things have certainly changed. Only a few months ago, Ed Miliband was widely viewed here as a weak leader who had little chance of ever making it to Number Ten. But his performances have been stronger at the dispatch box this year and whilst I am not sure a large portion of the public yet views him as a PM in waiting, he is clearly a work in progress in which there has been some progress.

The NHS as an issue has gone from neutral to negative for the Tories.

And their attempts to convince people that 'we are all in it together' now look a busted flush. They are unequivocally viewed at the moment as the party of the rich.

Labour Leader Ed Miliband replies to a statement made by Minister for the Cabinet Office regarding Conservative Party donors.
Labour Leader Ed Miliband replies to a statement made by Minister for the Cabinet Office regarding Conservative Party donors. Credit: PA Wire

But, as yet, this is not enough to return Labour to power. It's not great to be viewed as the party of the wealthy, but after a long recession the Tories' future probably turns on the question of whether they can convince the nation that they have the means and the motive to make us all rich.

In other words, it all comes down to economic credibility. At the moment the Tories still have it (just) and Labour does not (sufficiently). I'm told the two Eds are uncomfortably aware of this, but there is little sign of it in their actions. Counter-intuitive and controversial as it may be to say so, they might have done better strategically to, say, stand aside from the public clamour in January and urge Stephen Hester to accept his bonus. They certainly need to pick some totemic issues to underline the fact that they have learned from the lessons of the past on issues like regulation and the deficit and that they are serious about encouraging wealth creation.

Many of the older, wiser heads in the party argue that playing to the mob wins you headlines, but not elections. The Tories may look like they are trying hard to lose, but Labour probably needs to do more to win. They still have time, of course, but it will get harder if the economy picks up speed - and their smarter strategists know it.