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By Tim Montgomerie
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We shouldn't get over-excited but the latest YouGov poll has the Labour lead down to 7%. At this stage in the first Thatcher parliament Michael Foot (yes, Michael Foot) enjoyed leads two or three times bigger than that being built up by Ed Miliband. According to James Forsyth in the Mail on Sunday David Cameron is being told by his Downing Street pollster, Andrew Cooper, that the underlying Labour lead is just 6%. Two polls earlier this week seemed to confirm that Labour's lead was certainly not growing. ICM had the Tories behind by 8% and Populus had Labour ahead by just 5%.
The next election is, of course, a long way off and we shouldn't read too much into what current polls mean for the future but they do seem to suggest that voters haven't been moved by the massive and controversial attention that Fleet Street has given to Andrew Mitchell and to George Osborne's train fare upgrade. Perhaps they're more interested in the growing economy, falling waiting lists and reduced inflation? In his Sunday Times column Dominic Lawson raises (£) the possibility that the misery index may now start to improve for the Coalition as unemployment and inflation both subside. David Cameron will hope so.
My own view remains that the next election will be very difficult to win outright but Labour's failure to detoxify its economic reputation gives our party a real chance. Even in Corby where Labour is set for a big by-election win voters have big lingering doubts about Labour on the economy (see the fourth subheading). In today's Observer Andrew Rawnsley previews the Tories' attack strategy: 'Why hand the keys back to the guys who put the car in the ditch?'. Only when Ed Miliband gets a grip of Labour's reputation as a party of tax, spend and waste can he be confident of winning a majority at the next election. Two years into his leadership he hasn't even begun that task.
If economic recovery and Labour weakness at the next election make David Cameron competitive then the thing that gives us a majority is a blue collar message. That's why I'm a bit nervous about the priority that the Free Enterprise Group of Tory MPs is apparently giving to the 40p tax band. Of course far too many people have been dragged into the 40p tax band in order to help pay for the increase in the basic income tax threshold (Kwasi Kwarteng MP tells the Mail on Sunday that five million people will pay 40p by the time of the next election – up from 3.7 million in 2011 (many more will fear paying it)). Reversing this fiscal drag should feature in the next Tory manifesto but it should play second fiddle to helping workers on average pay. Obsessing about the 40p threshold is not as dangerous as obsessing about the 50p tax band but a focus on workers on average pay means that the three tax priorities for the next Tory manifesto should be the restoration of the 10p tax band, a cap on petrol duty and, if affordable, action on National Insurance.