After 13 years out of government, the Conservatives finally have a realistic opportunity to return to power. Success is by no means guaranteed.
David Cameron’s troops will have to fight for every vote as the struggling economy polarises British politics and galvanises Labour’s activists. Fluctuating opinion polls have shown this contest is by no means wrapped up. The party, which has been professionally preparing for this campaign for months, is now running full-pelt towards the finish line. Here’s a summary of their stumbles and the successes along the way.
Low – January 13th: An airbrushing embarrassment – Normally flawless skin and perfect hair are a plus for any leader, but David Cameron’s appearance on his party’s latest billboard campaign prompted suspicions he might have been airbrushed. Gordon Brown made the most of this opportunity in PMQs, saying: “If you can’t get your photograph right it’s very difficult to get your policies right.”
High – February 12th: ‘Radical’ boost for upbeat Cameron – The Tory leader told the Scottish Conservatives that his Cabinet would approach reform with a “radical zeal”, in a widely praised speech. He promised “the biggest change in the way this country is run for a generation”.
Low – February 22nd: Tory lead wavering – Polls over the weekend put a hung parliament possibility very much on the cards in bad news for the Conservatives. A YouGov poll for the Sunday Times gave them a lead of just six per cent over Labour, while ComRes had them eight points ahead.
High – February 28th: Cameron’s “patriotic duty” to overthrow Brown – The Tory leader’s spring conference speech said the country was in a “complete and utter mess”, rousing activists as he did so. “We have to sort it out,” he added.
Low – March 1st: The Ashcroft row begins – Tory donor Michael Ashcroft finally admitted his non-dom status after a decade of evasion. An extremely uncomfortable month for the Conservatives, especially William Hague, followed, as unanswered questions about the Tory relationship with their bankroller raised eyebrows.
High – March 22nd: A fertile leader – David Cameron’s virility was underlined with the confirmation that his wife Samantha is pregnant again. Columnists hailed the move as a devoted piece of electioneering.
High – April 7th: Cameron takes PMQs – David Cameron won the last prime minister’s questions of the expenses parliament. In a wide-ranging attack he accused Gordon Brown of misleading the Chilcot inquiry, cutting defence spending and showing little respect for business leaders who backed the Tory plans on national insurance.
Low – April 8th: Caine slips up – David Cameron’s coup in acquiring prominent supporter Sir Michael Caine blew up on him when the famous actor seems to misunderstand who he was supporting. The Get Carter star took to the podium to celebrate the brilliant “government” programme the Tories were so busy promoting. The Tories haven’t been in power for 13 years, but he didn’t seem to realise that.
High – April 13th: Manifesto launch – David Cameron launched the Conservative manifesto in Battersea powerstation to great fanfare. The document, which came as a fetching blue hardback, held no new policies, but won strong headlines about his commitment to ‘people power’.
Low – April 15th: Leaders’ debate disappointment – Those hoping the Tory leader would steal the show at the historic first leaders’ TV debate will have been disappointed by Cameron’s performance. Appearing uncomfortable, slightly nervous and distracted, he did not live up to expectations and the event triggered renewed interest in Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg.
Low – April 19th: Falling behind? – Serious questions are asked about the Tory performance in the polls as opinion polls show the Liberal democrats pulling ahead. The unprecedented reversal in fortunes leads to speculation of a Tory defeat, with the Lib Dems going into coalition with Labour.
High – April 22nd: Improved performance – Cameron wins over doubters with a markedly stronger performance in the second leaders’ debate. The Tory leader is judged the winner by two polls, but Nick Clegg still wins it in several others. Most commentators brand it a draw.