A little bit of humility will go a long way for Cameron

May 04, 2015, 9:29 AM GMT+0

How David Cameron should reach out to those who have not felt the economic recovery

The election result hangs in the balance and in these last few days there may yet be votes to be swung. What final messages might make a difference? The Conservatives will hammer away about their economic performance, but this may be a mistake. The key group for them are the supporters they lost to Ukip, who disapprove of David Cameron but nevertheless much prefer him to Ed Miliband. These potential last-minute tactical converts are the ones most likely to have been left behind by the economic recovery. When the Tories are crowing about their economic competence, these voters do not feel grateful but resentful. They believe the establishment is a conspiracy against them. They feel that Cameron has looked after his rich friends, but doesn't genuinely care about people like them. So the main Conservative message does not work for them, it just makes the Tories just look smug.

Instead of telling Ukippers how well he has done, the Prime Minister should invert his boast. On the rare occasions when he feels driven to it, he’s surprisingly good at humility, as he showed at the critical moment in the Scottish referendum campaign. He should now say: "I know that the economic recovery has left many of our most deserving citizens behind. I am sorry that it hasn't yet reached so many of you. I worry about that each and every day. And it is my greatest priority to fix that now." Voters don't reward parties for what they delivered in the past but for what they may credibly achieve in the future. And though politicians never comprehend it, people warm to leaders who acknowledge the the complaints of their critics; they find them more trustworthy. Without now reaching out to the those he has rejected in the past, Cameron cannot expect to remain in Number 10.

There is something else that Cameron can do, indicated by new polling from YouGov. Only 36% of Ukip supporters rate ‘controlling the deficit’ as ‘very important’ and it’s 51% for ‘keeping the economy growing’ – but for ‘having an referendum on EU membership’, it’s 73%. Unfortunately for Cameron, Ukippers don't believe he will actually hold that referendum - his credibility on this issue with Ukippers is -15%, with just a third believing he will stick to his pledge. Even Labour voters trust him more on this. What a waste of a potentially Ukip-converting policy, that it has come to represent the suspicion in which he is held by the voters he most depends on. Cameron began to raise the volume on this topic during Thursday night's Question Time, but he needs to sustain it to polling day.

Miliband's final week is more straightforward. Though Labour is undone in Scotland, in England the Miliband team has successfully pursued a clever if unambitious strategy of slightly lowering the fear factor. Anxiety about Tory welfare cuts should also keep Labour's base voters motivated. Though the stone slab has been mocked, coverage served to remind voters of his key themes, which have played well. While Cameron needs converts, Miliband only needs not to reassure them enough that they are not drawn into voting against him tactically, something he has succeeded in so far.

PA image

See the full poll results