From the Conservative conference
Today's Times poll showing that David Cameron remains far more popular than his party has some important implications for Labour strategy. The Populus poll found that 68 per cent of voters view the party as unchanged under Cameron's leadership.
But the Conservatives have changed since Cameron became leader. They have become even more Eurosceptic. They have committed themselves to even more regressive tax cuts. It's up to Labour to ensure Cameron does not remain untainted by these developments.
While Labour is seen as more likely than the Conservatives (by 46 to 36 per cent) to protect front-line public services, this advantage is reversed when voters are asked to compare Gordon Brown with Cameron (42 to 45 per cent). Clearly Cameron's pledge to ring-fence NHS spending has had some impact. The Tory leader is even seen as more likely than Brown to spread "the burden of cuts fairly". Brown's disastrous decision to abolish the 10p tax rate did much to destroy his reputation for fairness.
Cameron is more popular than his party, and that is one of the main reasons why the Tories are so keen on the proposed television debates between party leaders. The more they can make the election seem like a presidential contest between Cameron and Brown, the more likely they are to win a large majority. But the debates would also provide Brown with a clear opportunity to expose Cameron as the reactionary he is, and it's one he'd be right to take.