Despite the recruitment of Tamsin Dunwoody as the Labour candidate (already being portrayed as a Brown clone), the Conservatives must be odds on favourites to win the Crewe and Nantwich by-election. The Conservatives are pouring substantial resources into the fight and Dave Cameron was seen on television last night rather awkwardly evading a voter's question about whether he would restore the 10p tax band if he was in charge.
Of course, he couldn't without wiping out the standard rate tax cut, even though in my view that was a mistake in the first place. This issue continues to fester away for Labour with the proposed 'compensation' necessarily being portrayed as inadequate given that there is no money left in the coffers to pay for it.
The word from the Conservatives is that losing this seat would be a 'killer blow' for Brown. This strikes me as a bit odd given that in the Wilson and Callaghan governments the Government losing a by-election in mid-term contests was a routine event, even rock hard Labour seats such as Ashfield succumbing to Mrs Thatcher's onslaught (much to the surprise of the Conservative victor who subsequently slipped into obscurity). Most of these seats werwe won back at the subsequent general election, although Liberal Democrat victors are generally better at holding on to their conquests.
But supposing Brown went, would that help the Conservatives? Surely better for them for him to remain in office as a perceived weak and ineffective leader of a divided party? Public rhetoric aside, no doubt they have worked that out for themselves. But it might encourage union leaders, petrol protesters and the like to have a go at the Government.
Like any Government that has been in office for a long time, the Government is starting to look exhausted. It is running out of ideas and any new initiatives are open to the charge 'why haven't you done that before now?' The Conservatives propose to unveil one policy at a time in a kind of strip tease, but at some point people are going to ask for a clearer idea of what Dave is going to do when he is in charge.