The latest MORI poll makes extraordinary reading. After a year spent on the back foot, Gordon Brown's high profile response to the financial crisis seems to have paid off in a way almost no-one would have predicted. The poll puts the Conservatives on 40% (down 5%) Labour on 37% (up 7), and the Lib Dems on 12% (down 2). This after the Tories enjoyed a wopping 28% lead on September 14th this year (the day before the Lehman Bros collapse) (see http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/blog/ for further details).
What on earth is going on?
Well, a couple of things.
First, Brown has been widely praised for decisive action in the midst of the most frightening week or two of the financial crisis, and British voters seem to see him as a serious politician for serious times. His flaws - obsessed with arcane details of policy, lack of charisma, inability to connect with ordinary folk - suddenly appear strengths.
Still, surely Brown got us into this mess in the first place, allowing bankers to run riot pumping credit into the market at same the time as allowing government borrowing to grow almost as fast?
Well, voters are less worried about who is to blame than about securing their livelihoods, and whatever his past sins Brown is the man at the helm. His opponents - Cameron and the increasingly fragile Osborne - appear young, callow and lacking in gravitas and experience. When you're looking into the abyss, you go for the devil you know...
Worse than this, the Conservatives can legitimately criticize Brown's fiscal policy (too much spending and borrowing), but when it comes to private sector excess - which is the real reason this crisis is so serious - they have almost nothing to say, having been opposed to even Labour's minimalistic regulation of the financial sector.
Labour may have been too beholden to financial interests for its own good, but the Conservatives are the party of the City, and cannot easily exploit popular disgust at the catastrophic mess made by the bankers. Labour could still blow it, but the next election will be a real contest.