The Tory attacks on Labour are failing. Will they change course?
Over the past month, Labour have faced an all-out assault from the Conservatives and their supporters in the press culminating in a series of attacks from Tory-supporting business leaders.
Huge resources have been poured into the Tory election campaign, with the party expected to outspend Labour by up to three to one over the coming months.
So what, if any, effect has it had on voters?
Well at the start of January, Labour had an average opinion poll lead of around one point over the Tories. One month later they still have an average lead of around one point over the Tories. The past month of campaigning has had basically no effect.
The longer term trend is little different. In the first month of 2014, the Tories had an average opinion poll share of 32%. One year on, the party now has an average vote share of (wait for it) 32%.
This is not just a failure of Tory campaigning, it is a failure of journalism as well. Over the past few years almost all of the commentary has assumed that there will be a significant "swing back" to the Tories as the general election approaches. This may well still happen, but with less than three months to go until voters go to the polls there remains zero evidence of it. Support for the Conservatives has flatlined for the best part of three years. There is little reason to believe this is about to change.
That "swing back" to the Tories we've all read so much about. Tory vote has flatlined for best part of three years. pic.twitter.com/YZcMCiNfbE
— Adam Bienkov (@AdamBienkov) February 3, 2015
This is not to say there has been no shift. Labour have lost a significant chunk of their support over the past year to the SNP, Ukip and the Greens. But while this has eroded Labour's chances of winning an overall majority, it has done little to boost the Tory hopes of winning one either.
In fact the big story of the past year has not been a swing back to the Tories, but a swing out to the smaller parties instead. It is this trend above all others which is likely to decide the outcome in May.
The biggest change in opinion over the past year has been in Scotland where the SNP have surged since the end of the referendum campaign. Tomorrow we will get a good idea of what this actually means, when Lord Ashcroft reveals his detailed polling of Scottish constituencies. So far national polls have suggested that Labour are set for a wipeout north of the border. However, other analysis has suggested that it may be difficult for the SNP to convert this surge into actual seats, given the size of Labour majorities across Scotland.
If Ashcroft's polls suggest the SNP really are set for a clean slate, then the Tories will have much to comfort themselves with. If however, they reveal that SNP gains will be more modest than the national polls suggest, then the Tories could be right back to square one again.
Either way Labour's Scottish difficulties – just like Ed Miliband's personal ones – will continue to act as a comfort blanket for the Tories, preventing them from examining the real reasons why their support remains so stubbornly low.
TNS has CON dropping 4 & LAB with 6% lead LAB 33% (+2), CON 27% (-4), UKIP 18% (+2), LIB DEM 6% (-2), GREEN 8% (+1), OTHER 8% (+1)
— Mike Smithson (@MSmithsonPB) February 3, 2015
It didn't have to be this way. After a year of strong economic recovery and declining trust in Labour and Miliband, any other governing party would expect to be sweeping up support by now. The fact that voters would still rather plump for almost any other party instead, suggests that the Tories have fundamental problems they are simply refusing to face up to.
There are occasionally signs of realisation. The party's continuing low support among the young, ethnic minorities, working class voters and indeed anyone outside the South East of England, have been repeatedly raised by some figures on the fringes of the party. Occasionally these concerns are listened to. Usually they are ignored.
In fact rather than face up to these problems they have instead retreated back to the same electoral comfort zone that has failed to win them a majority for over twenty years. Endlessly banging on about immigration, Europe and welfare have failed to win dividends for the party for decades and yet they continue to do it anyway.
They say madness is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result. Well the Tories have been doing the same thing for almost a quarter of a century now and yet still they stand back in amazement when the opinion polls refuse to budge.
Perhaps they have a plan to change all this. Perhaps in the next two and a half months they will announce policies that radically change people's perceptions of the Conservative party rather than simply confirm them.
After all, anything is possible. But just like the "swing back" to the Tories we've spent the past four years reading about, there remains little actual evidence it is about to happen.