Has Cameron blown it?

Cameron- what's going wrong: Picture courtesy Greenpeace

In an election that began competing with the Icelandic volcano for volatility and unpredictability, it is probably tempting fate to write any epitaph for David Cameron midway through the campaign.

 Yet what has become clear is that Dave has not “sealed the deal” with the electorate and has squandered a ten point plus lead which should have ensured that he easily formed a government on May 7, albeit with a small majority.

If he fails he faces a damning post mortem by his party but the seeds of his own potential destruction have been around before the campaign even started. They lie in the weakest links in his own shadow cabinet- George Osborne, his chancellor, and Chris Grayling, his shadow home secretary.

The  rise in Liberal Democrat support following the first debate is not so surprising when you compare the quality of the two key spokesmen backing Clegg with their Tory counterparts-Vince Cable dominates Osborne and Chris Huhne, a former leadership contender, outsmarts Grayling. The weakest link in the Liberal Democrats was until then Clegg who? Then came his first performance on our TV screens, reinforced by the second.

Osborne has been tainted ever since a Parliamentary investigation into the undeclared funding for his office during the last session (Tenth report  Standards and Privileges Committee. Conduct of Mr George Osborne HC 560) revealed that it had received some £487,000 of donors’ cash to fund his office from high fliers in the city and a scion of the Rothschild family.

What is extraordinary is that these huge sums to fund research and the access he had to brains in the City have failed to produce an economic policy to challenge Labour. Instead there seems to have been a combination of policies that would particularly benefit the donors (the big hike in the threshold for inheritance tax), a rush to introduce public spending cuts and a claim that a £6 billion jobs tax would snuff out the entire economic recovery..

The latter appeared to be holed last week when Sir Terry Leahy, the head of Tesco’s, announced he was not supporting a Tory co-ordinated call to cut the job tax – but was creating 9000 new jobs in the UK despite it. No explanation from Mr Osborne on that one.

Grayling has been effectively marginalised by Cameron during the campaign. He is symbolic of the fault line dividing the attempt by the leader to present a new “green blue” caring Tory agenda and the traditional Tory “ slash and cut taxes” backwoodsman – still the majority of old Tory voters. Expected to toe the new party line on gay tolerance, his mask slipped when he defended a Christian B&B owner turning away a gay couple.

Grayling is an Old Tory in New Conservative clothing – and the electorate are rumbling this. They don’t know where the Tory party really stands or if they are traditional Tories, what they stand for. This made the vacuous “Time for Change” slogan open to easy hijack from Nick Clegg.

Of course, Cameron might just bounce back to squeeze a minute majority by polling day, but time is now against him. Votes can be cast by post from this week so by the time the third debate takes place  it will be too late to sway millions.

The right wing press attack on the Liberal Democrats also had a fatal flaw – the majority of the new voters attracted to Clegg are the internet savvy under 35 generation.They don’t buy the papers anyway, so it would have zilch influence.

Whatever happens in this election – short of a miracle doubling of the Tory lead- Cameron has thrown away the Tories best chance for 13 years.

This blog is also on the Progress website.