Public Affairs: Soap Box - Paul Richards, ex-special adviser to Hazel Blears and Patricia Hewitt

Michael Foot was the last senior politician who ignored political opinion polls. Before him, most politicians agreed with Foot that they represented 'tomfoolery'. After him, no political leader ever again ignored the polls.

Between September 2007 and the start of this year, the polls told the same story. Labour is on course to lose the general election; the Conservatives are odds-on to win it. Lobbyists, journalists, business leaders, civil servants, even ministers have made their plans based on the group view that Cameron is heading for Number 10.

No longer. Cameron's double-digit lead has melted away. The polls show the Tories ahead by around five points; in some it is as low as two. The unthinkable may be about to happen: Gordon Brown may remain in charge of a minority government. Lobbyists who have spent five years cosying up to Cameron must re-evaluate their strategy.

Now, lobbyists are having to think about Brown's potential ministers after May. Balls to the Treasury? Miliband to the Home Office? Promotions for Healey, Khan and Cooper? New Labour MPs include John Woodcock, Rachel Reeves, Stella Creasy and Rushanara Ali. For the Tories: no red boxes, no ministerial Prius, just despair, blame and a leadership contest. After all, you can't ignore the polls.

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