Opinion: Tories show signs of campaign nous

There is some truth in the adage that while an opposition can't win an election, a government can lose it. So credit should be given to the Tories for closing the opinion-poll gap.

The biggest laugh I had this week was reading the line peddled by Labour that it was delighted with the fact that opinion polls showed the two main parties almost even. This, it claimed, would help convince supporters to vote to keep the Tories out of office. Utter rubbish of course: the real reaction was one of horror at the realisation that the public may no longer be scared at the prospect of a Conservative government.

To make things even worse for Tony Blair, the same polls showed that a change in leadership would do wonders for Labour. If they didn't realise it before, Labour election strategists now know that the Tory campaign is making a real impact.

The most important action the Conservative Party has taken is to end in-party feuding. Aussie campaign chief Lynton Crosby may privately think that Maurice Saatchi is a plonker, but for now his views remain just that, private. Crosby has created a loyal and effective campaign team that is pulling in the same direction. Interestingly, while the Labour team oozes testosterone, the Tories have employed a large number of talented young female press officers who knock the spots off the Labour lot.

This may seem trivial, but these PROs understand much better what the all-important female voters want - and right now they don't seem to want Blair. Even Alan Milburn's mates have admitted that the Tories have learnt the lessons of being in opposition.

Crosby and his team know that the number-one rule of any campaign is to set the agenda. This is extremely difficult for an opposition to achieve but so far they have pulled it off - in some cases spectacularly. They even forced Labour to come up with more draconian immigration pledges.

The most impressive thing about the Tories though is the amount of air time and press coverage they have generated. They know repetition is vital to get policies to stick in people's brains.

The real test for the Tory campaign is yet to come. With Gordon Brown sidelined by Blair, shadow chancellor Oliver Letwin has had it pretty easy. But with the Budget around the corner, the economy will soon be on top of the agenda, and how the Tories react will be crucial to their election hopes - if they don't put all their resources into responding to Brown, all will be lost.

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