All of this comes back to the question of whether the Tories have the right messaging. Lee Atwater, the Reagan/Bush strategist, has said the key to good message strategy is to choose the ditch you’re going to die in – meaning that messages need to be chosen early and then stuck to because by election day either they will have been proved right or it is too late to choose otherwise.
The Tory “ditch” was supposed to be leadership and the economy. But Cameron weakened his leadership advantage by failing to turn up for the debates and has relied on an economic message far too triumphalist for the reality of the fragile recovery at hand.
As a result, the ditch the Tories chose to die in may well result in electoral death rather than messaging victory.
Bluntly, they had plenty of warning. They were told not to embark on an ideologically driven programme of austerity, but decided to do it anyway. As a result, Britain's economy languished while the economies of comparable nations improved. So trumpeting the recent growth sounds hollow and weak. Celebrating small falls in unemployment when there are millions out of work and in part time work or facing up to having no work next week makes them sound out of touch and arrogant. And the recent promises to spend money - even when they don't know where they are getting it from - and somehow reduce deficits at the same time, shreds the whatever is left of their reputation for competence and calm leadership in the eyes of people who haven't suffered as a result of the economic mismanagement that has blighted the country for the last five years.
The startling thing is, though, that this was always going to happen. There hasn't been a time since late 2010, when the Labour have been significantly behind in the polls. The Conservatives might argue that they are peaking at precisely the right time; they have pulled Labour back just when it mattered, given that the parliament was going to run for five years; but it is a doubtful claim. They've had five years and this is all they have to show for it? And 'peaking' suggests going up, whereas their share of vote has fallen from somewhere in the 40s in 2010 to the low to mid-thirties now. That isn't peaking, it is bottoming out.
Or at least, they'd better bloody well hope they've bottomed out. There's still plenty of numbers smaller than the ones they are on just now.