Sorry – ok, no I’m not – to return to the day I got a call from the Telegraph asking for a quote on a poll showing Labour 37 points ahead.
But let’s try to be inside the head of David Cameron. Let’s reflect on the fact that we are in recession, with unemployment up and public spending cuts to some services certain. Politics has been dominated by MPs’ expenses. British troops are involved, and some dying, in a difficult and protracted war with no end in sight and a recent surge in media and public opinion against it.
We have had the conference season, in which the Tories had a great chance to showcase their people and their policies to the nation. To help them, they have had the most uncritical and unquestioning media environment ever to surround an Opposition leader. They have had the Sun switch from Labour to Tory since when the anti-Labour bias has become stronger, most recently with the storm whipped up over GB’s letter to the mother of a soldier killed in Afghanistan.
All this on the back of the inevitable ‘time for a change’ mood that is bound to develop when one party has been in power for 12 years.
And yet, last night Cameron’s team took a call from The Times to tell them not of a growing poll lead, but one which has been cut to ten points.
No one poll tells a story, and the trend in the polls has had the Tories ahead for some time.
But if the current media mood reflected the genuine public mood, Cameron and Co would be out of sight.
So why aren’t they? Because as I have been telling them for yonks, they have not done the strategic heavylifting required to indicate real change, and the public are not daft. They know the Tories have not really changed.
The recent spats on Europe, even with The Sun’s news blackout on Cameron dropping the pledge of a referendum, have reminded people of that. So does their single tax pledge – to cut inheritance tax for the wealthiest estates in Britain. The longer they stick to that one, the more people will suspect a deal has been done with influential and wealthy backers somewhere along the line.
And they see too that whilst Cameron and his band of unknowns will pop up to criticise Labour every hour of the day, when the question is asked ‘but what will you do?’ answer comes there none.
Yesterday we had the latest example. Ed Miliband sets out the next steps for nuclear energy. Too late, cry the Tories. Ok, say the public, but if we vote for you, you’re in within months. So what will you do? Er …
Remember when Dave was changing his logo to a tree, sledging with huskies in the Arctic, putting a wind turbine on his roof, cycling to work (albeit with car behind trying to avoid the snappers) and saying ‘vote blue, get green’? Every single one of those is a presentational tactic. But what is his environmental policy should be he PM? You don’t know. Nor does he. What is he saying should happen at the Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen? You don’t know? Nor does he.
So on he goes, thinking a glib line here, a nice photo there, and he’ll be home and dry. Who knows? Maybe with all the difficulties outlined above, he’s right.
But I think the public, even if the media aren’t, are starting to ask a few more questions and finding the answers somewhat deficient, if not, often, non-existent.
On GB’s letter … I have a few of those. I just dug out the one he wrote when my father died. He didn’t have to, but he did. It is in the now familiar black felt pen. Some of the words are a bit difficult to read. ‘Alastair’ with 3 As looks suspiciously like ‘Alistair’ with 2 Is. But it talks about his feelings for his father, and his feelings when he died, and it was a nice gesture at a difficult time for me and my family.
Given all the other pressures on a Prime Minister’s time, that meant something.
He will be mortified that anyone, least of all the grieving mother of a dead young soldier, might think he would be callous or disregarding of his sacrifice or their suffering.
Until a few weeks ago, the Sun would never have thought so either.