The inconvenience of the Newark by-election notwithstanding, the Tories have had the perfect preparation for a drubbing in next week’s European elections. They’ve told everyone who even stops for a second on the pavement next to them that they’re expecting a difficult time and thus have managed the expectations of the party both at a parliamentary and grassroots level. They’ve seen the increased media scrutiny of Ukip as a sign it is ok to attack the party, albeit not using insulting language. They’ve tried to keep MPs busy with campaign days, rather than plotting in Portcullis House.
And now they’ve reached the point Labourites feared, when the two parties have crossed over in the polls. As James said yesterday, the Ashcroft poll showing the Tories ahead will help the party leadership argue that whatever happens next week, next year’ selection is looking much brighter a prospect. And today’s Guardian poll putting the Conservatives on 33 and Labour on 31 (Ukip 15 and Lib Dem 13) means the leadership can argue that this could be a trend.
The question for Labour is how well the party can manage this, whether trend or wobble. Its MPs are more disciplined than the Tories , but they are slowly becoming a little less confident and a little more nervy. The arrival of David Axelrod in London today at least gives the impression the party isn’t sticking its fingers in its ears.