The Conservatives are in better spirits than almost anyone expected them to be on election day. Weeks of careful expectation management have ensured that a third-place finish in the Europeans has been priced into David Cameron’s political share price, with potential rebels appeased in advance, while the narrowing of the national polls has reassured Conservative MPs that they can win the next general election.
But the day has not started well for the Tories, with new figures showing that they’re off course on two key targets. The ONS estimates that net migration rose by 212,000 last year, up from 177,000 in 2012 and far above the “tens of thousands” Cameron is aiming for.
In addition, the deficit stood at £11.5bn last month, a year-on-year increase of £1.9bn. With borrowing still rising, despite the return of growth, there is no prospect of George Osborne meeting his pledge to reduce the national debt as a share of GDP by 2015-16 and to eliminate the structural deficit by the end of this parliament.
But while the figures represent an unarguable policy failure for the Tories, the political question is whether Labour can capitalise. As long as voters continue to doubt that the opposition would be any better at reducing immigration and the deficit, Miliband will struggle to reap any benefits.