Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Are Tories running out of time to win next election?

I WAS at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester last week as an observer.

As you entered the main conference hall, there was a large Maggie Thatcher stand, with all the usual mugs, T-shirts and pens and with a large strapline at the top of the stand stating: 'The trouble with socialism is you eventually run out of spending other people's money'.

But, of course, it is in all the bars, restaurants and the coffee shops where you find out what the grassroots Tories are really thinking.

I would describe their mood as cautious optimism – at best. There was a lot of disquiet about Cameron's handling of the same-sex marriage issue and, of course, about Ukip.

There were to be new electoral boundaries brought in during this parliament, but these were vetoed by the Lib-Dems.

Now many of the Conservative faithful are beginning to realise that these unchanged constituency boundaries mean that the Conservatives have to be 5%-6% ahead in the popular vote to have a 50/50 chance of getting an overall majority.

Yes, they need to be 5%-6% ahead to break even.

And they are currently 10-12 points behind in the polls, so it's a big ask to get an overall majority.

In his keynote speech, David Cameron had to assert, of course, that he is going for an overall majority, but he gave an impression he's not totally confident.

With only 19 months to go, Cameron is now in the final run-in to what will be the most crucial election of his career.

He may yet regret not sorting out the boundary changes with Nick Clegg from day one of this Government.

It's too late now, though, and if he is to win in 2015, the Conservatives need to start reining in Labour's lead in the polls – and quickly.

As it says on the top of Ian Paisley's church, 'Time Is Short'.

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