U.K. Conservatives See Their Lead Erode as Election Approaches

By Patrick Goodenough | March 1, 2010 | 4:24 AM EST

David Cameron, leader of Britain's Conservative party, addresses the party's annual spring conference in Brighton on Sunday, Feb. 28, 2010. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

(CNSNews.com) – With 10 weeks to go until the likely date for Britain’s general election, the Conservative Party’s hopes of returning to power for the first time in 13 years took a blow Sunday with a poll giving it the narrowest lead over the ruling Labor Party in two years.
The sobering news for Tory leader David Cameron came as the party held a spring conference in Brighton.
In a bid to boost support from traditionalists, some of whom have been wary of a perceived leftward shift on social issues under his leadership, he promised “the most family-friendly manifesto that any party has produced in British political history,” including tax breaks for married couples.
A YouGov poll for the Sunday Times found the Conservative Party just two points ahead of Labor (37-35 percent), the latest in a series of polls showing a steady narrowing of the Tories’ lead. Britain’s third party, the Liberal Democrats, were at 17 percent.
At its strongest, the Conservative Party in a May 2008 YouGov poll for The Sun held a 26-point lead over Labor.
Because of the way the British electoral system works, the current two-point lead probably would not prevent Prime Minister Gordon Brown from being able to remain in power for up to another five years. His Labor Party is stronger in urban areas, and as they account for more constituencies, Labor could form the next government even if it achieved a slightly smaller percentage of the national vote.
Under British law, the next election must be held by June 3 at the latest. Pundits are predicting May 6 as a likely date, although an April election has not been ruled out.

David Cameron, leader of Britain's Conservative Party, waves to delegates after delivering a keynote speech during the party's annual spring conference, in Brighton on Sunday, Feb. 28, 2010. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

In his speech to party activists in Brighton, Cameron warned of “the incredible dark depression of another five years of Gordon Brown,” declaring, “It’s an election we have to win because the country is in a complete mess and it’s our patriotic duty to turn it around.”
Alluding to the narrowing polls, he said “this election was always going to be a real fight for our party.”
“They don’t hand general election victories and governments on a plate to people in this country, and quite right too.”
In his speech, Cameron referred to “change” about 30 times. The Conservative Party’s election slogan is “vote for change,” mirroring that of President Obama.
The British election will for the first time feature live, televised U.S.-style leader debates, and it was reported last week that former White House communications director Anita Dunn has been hired to help Cameron prepare for the three 90-minute encounters.
Bill Knapp, another Obama consultant and Dunn’s colleague at Squier, Knapp, Dunn Communications in Washington D.C., also will be helping the Cameron campaign, according to reports in The Times of London and the Wall Street Journal.
Dunn left the White House late last year to return to the consultancy after her husband, Robert Bauer, the president's personal attorney, was named White House counsel.
Earlier she had stoked controversy by attacking Fox News. She said the channel “often operates almost as either the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party.”
Another American involved in Obama’s successful campaign, strategist and pollster Joel Benenson, will be helping Brown to prepare for the debates.
The debates, one each to be broadcast on ITV, Sky and the BBC, will pit telegenic 43-year-old Cameron against 59-year-old Brown, who has often been criticized as uncharismatic and dour. Liberal Democrats leader Nick Clegg, 43, also will take part.
Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow