Can Cameron turn it round?
Like Iain Duncan Smith in 2003, and Michael Howard in 2004, David Cameron goes to the Conservative conference in a desperate position. Labour has an opinion poll lead that would give it an increased majority, were it to be repeated in a general election, and there are certainly some members of his party who would love nothing more than an outbreak of civil war at the party conference. Many senior figures in the Labour party are keen on an early election, in the belief that this will finish off both the Conservative Party (although it seems unlikely to me that 35% of the population can ever be permanently disenfranchised).
Recent history suggests that David Cameron does have a good chance of boosting his partyâ€™s standing at the conference. To my mind, there could have been no Conservative conference more shambolic and awful than that of October 2003.
Yet, a snap poll taken by Yougov straight after the conference showed Conservative support rising from 33% to 38%, and a few days later, ICM and MORI showed Conservative support rising by 3% and 4% respectively. In 2004, the Conservative conference took place straight after the Hartlepool by-election, where they finished fourth, with Populus, Yougov and ICM placing them on 28-30%.
Yet by the end of the month, after a successful speech from Michael Howard, they were placed on 31-33%. Quite possibly, a snap poll after the conference would have shown a bigger boost. Last year, a lead of 1% with ICM, and level-pegging with Yougov, prior to the conference, had been converted into leads of 10% and 7% respectively, after the conference.
Provided the Conservative Party does not tear itself to pieces next week, then there must be a good chance that the party will see its ratings rise from 32-34%, at present, to the 35/36% that it enjoyed at the start of September. And that in turn, would surely make it very risky for Gordon Brown to call a snap election, although perhaps the momentum for an early poll, which will either finish Brownâ€™s political career, or Cameronâ€™s, is now unstoppable.
This weekâ€™s round of local by-elections was a good deal better for the Conservatives than the previous two weeksâ€™. As always, however, donâ€™t read too much into any one set of results.
Portsmouth City Council, Nelson. Labour 791, Conservative 682, Lib Dem 548, UKIP 90, Green 78, English Democrat 71. Labour Hold. Both the Conservatives and Labour increased their vote share slightly, compared to May, and the Conservatives moved up from third place.
Sunderland Metroplitan Borough, Washington East. Conservative 1,196, Labour 994, Lib Dem 206. Conservative gain from Labour. Sunderland is one Northern city where the Conservative Party has not faded away, and they worked very hard to pull off this win.
Cheshire County Council, Gowy. Conservative 1,863, Lib Dem 1,419, Labour 307, UKIP 107. Conservative hold. The Labour vote dropped by 80%, compared to 2005.
Northamptonshire County Council, Lloyds. Labour 1,093, Conservative 375, Lib Dem 311, BNP 265. An easy Labour hold, although they appear to have been harder hit by the BNP than the other parties.
Chester Le Street District Council, Central. Labour 324, Conservative 88, Lib Dem 81, BNP 51. An easy hold for Labour, in one of their strongholds.
Mansfield Borough Council, Lindhurst. Labour 339, Independent 302, Lib Dem 215, Conservative 61, Green 35. Labour gain from Independent. Traditionally, Mansfield has been a Labour stronghold, but the council is now controlled by independents. Perhaps, Labour is regaining ground.
Dover District Council, Aylesham. Labour 661, Conservative 108, Independent 59, Independent 1. Labour hold, with a big swing to them.
Dover District Council, Maxton, Elms Vale, and Priory. Labour 365, Lib Dem 274, Conservative 252, Independent 70, UKIP 65, Independent 56. Labour hold, but with quite a large swing against them.
Kent County Council, Dover Town. Labour 1,860, Conservative 1,348, Lib Dem 420, Independent 300, UKIP 256. Labour hold.