Like the high pressure area sitting over southern England this week, the political weather is strangely becalmed. Labour is two points ahead of the Conservatives in the poll of polls, comfortably enough to emerge from the election as the largest single party and to do some kind of deal with the Scottish Nationalists.The Tory campaign has failed to break through yet and Ed Miliband has not imploded under media and public scrutiny.
Time for a Tory panic? Not yet. The Conservatives are maintaining admirable steadiness under fire. And next week is manifesto week as all the parties parade their wares in the hope of capturing the imagination of a seemingly apathetic public.
Today’s Daily Telegraph, fearsomely loyal to the Tory cause, reflects the unease in the party’s ranks at the lack of progress. Time for the ‘vision thing’, it recommends in its leading article.
Can David Cameron conjure up a bright new tomorrow that might yet swing the election in his direction? He started well with his emphasis on business, the economy, jobs and tax cuts but has allowed the focus to switch elsewhere, not least on Labour’s assault on the non-doms and Ed Miliband’s injured innocence over supposedly personal attacks.
Some Tories, in line with the Telegraph’s thinking, will be looking for something eye-catching this week. The promise of a cut in the basic rate of tax; a pledge by Cameron to campaign for Britain to leave the EU if he does not get satisfaction from his European partners in the proposed renegotiation; action to take millions of middle class workers out of the top rate of income tax; a firm commitment to beef up our defences in a dangerous world by spending at least the Nato target of 2 per cent of GDP; bold action to spread property ownership.
You can rule out most of the above. Lynton Crosby’s grid does not favour surprises. But a move to expand home ownership by giving housing association tenants the keys to their homes, a move favoured by Welfare Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, must have some chance of inclusion in the Tory manifesto. Cameron badly needs something to fire up his campaign and give a sense of the kind of self-reliant, self-confident society he is trying to build.
Then there is the Miliband factor. He has not imploded, he has not made a fool of himself, and he has not been painted successfully as the most left-wing Labour leader since Michael Foot. Cameron and his cohorts will have to up the pressure on Ed. Their whole strategy rests on the proposition that as the undecided voters, of which there appear to be many, survey the two possible prime ministers, they will break decisively for Dave. That is not happening yet.
Finally, there is Ukip. Farage has not exactly been shooting the lights out. But he is still holding at 15 per cent of the vote – far too high for Tory comfort. What can entice his supporters back to the Tory fold? Toughening the line on Europe is the most credible option. Cameron may have to contemplate the joys of a Britain outside the EU if he is to hold onto his job.