For Labour, as for Germany, seven is the lucky number. That is the margin by which the party has led the Conservatives in a succession of polls this week (YouGov, Populus, Lord Ashcroft and Opinium). The numbers could soon shift in the Tories' favour, but Labour strategists are cheered by their continuing advantage. They note that their lead has held up (and in fact increased) despite the media assault against Ed Miliband and a strengthening economic recovery. One told me: "We can lead, and lead healthily, after six weeks of buckets of shit being poured over Ed".
Ten months out from the general election, there is more than enough time for the Tories to supplant Labour, but some Conservative MPs increasingly doubt their ability to do so. Those who study the polls most closely suggest that their colleagues are too preoccupied with the air war, and the Tories' superior media profile, to notice Labour's arithmetical advantage. One recently told me: "I'm a numbers man, I look at the data and ask 'how we are going to hold, say, Lincoln?'" He feared that the Lib Dem collapse in Labour-Tory marginals meant a succession of Conservative marginals would fall into the opposition's lap.
Tory optimists note that the party enjoys a robust lead on "the fundamentals" of the economy and leadership. But the pessimists question why, if that is the case, they aren't ahead already. The danger for the Tories is that their enduring brand weakness means the ceiling on their vote is simply too low to beat Labour