Britain's Cameron – prime minister-in-waiting?
At the Conservative Party's conference Thursday, David Cameron will try to project a more compassionate image even as he calls for public-spending cuts and tax hikes.
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His party is the runaway favorite to lead the next government. All week, Mr. Cameron has urged humility on his center-right Tory party and warned that victory in elections to be held before May 2010 is not assured.
He may have a point. Though recent polls show the Tories between 12 and 15 points ahead of the incumbent Labour Party, any Tory disarray in the election runup could result in a hung parliament, where Cameron does not have an outright majority or controls only a narrow advantage.
The sheer scope of the task facing Cameron remains daunting. His party need to gain 117 seats to win a parliamentary majority of just one.
"The situation is dire for Gordon Brown; the party is in a rut," says Gavin Hayes, general secretary of Compass, a grassroots Labour lobby group. "But the election may be much closer than the polling suggests, especially if people conclude that Cameron's claim to [be] a friend of the poor and public services simply isn't true."
Nevertheless, Cameron's choice of Manchester -- in the Labour heartland of northern England -- for his party conference has underscored the dominant political narrative of a busted Labour government led by a tired Gordon Brown.
Powerful voices have joined the Cameron bandwagon. Rupert Murdoch last week switched the allegiance of his 3 million-circulation tabloid, The Sun, to the Conservatives. Yet there are still obstacles blocking Cameron's path to No.10 Downing Street.
Popular by default?
A Populus poll commissioned by The Times newspaper ahead of the Manchester conference found that, while Cameron is personally popular, the Conservatives are doing well more because of Labour's unpopularity than their own pulling power.
The data are a reminder of the work to be done to banish the "nasty party" tag foisted on the Tory governments of the 1980s and '90s, positioning them as the enemy of the downtrodden and the public services they rely on. Now, Cameron is trying to project an image of modern, compassionate Conservatives.
Suspicions also remain over the posh backgrounds of Cameron and his cohorts. Both he and right-hand man George Osborne attended Eton (a top fee-paying school) and are Oxford University alumni. The pair this week sought to distance themselves from embarrassing details about their membership in an elitist drinking club at Oxford.