As my Alphaville colleagues would say, it’s tin hat time for the Conservatives. You don’t have to believe the huge Lib Dem poll surge in its entirety to know both parties have a big problem. Labour is counting on the Clegg boost doing enough to deny the Tories a majority (and possibly even the largest number of seats) but not becoming so strong as to do real damage to Mr Brown. It is also enjoying the Conservative discomfort and counting on the Cameron campaign self-destructing. This seems understandable but very risky. The Lib Dem surge could leave Mr Brown hanging on but it is surely not something around which to build a strategy.
Mr Cameron has a more fundamental problem. Unlike Mr Brown he was in control of his destiny and needs to be so again if he is to win. He had a simple plan – to persuade voters that he was the change they so desperately want But he has allowed himself to be sidetracked from that message (bleating on about a national insurance contributions rise few understand) and in the TV debate the change mantle was seized by Mr Clegg. Mr Cameron’s team have made the schoolboy error of thinking that winning a media war on NI contributions was the same as winning round voters. It wasn’t. Read more
Mischievous talk at Lib Dem HQ after Nick Clegg’s debate triumph. Word has it that Vince Cable, who has been on Mr Clegg’s right shoulder since the start of the campaign, is not quite as thrilled as some about the leader’s new found status as Britain’s Obama. One Lib Dem insider goes so far as to suggest the party’s would-be chancellor in any post-election coalition is a touch miffed about all the plaudits now being heaped on Mr Clegg. The media’s love affair with the sainted Vince has cooled as a consequence, and Mr Clegg may now decide he can go it alone on the campaign trail.
I am sure all this is just gossip, but there is a serious point. The power balance in the party has shifted decisively. No longer is the leader a callow youth relying on the wisdom and experience of a more popular colleague. Mr Clegg is now his own man. I suspect Mr Cable may not be alone in the Lib Dem team in having mixed feelings. But that’s politics.