It's all about the marginals
Politicalbetting.com has just published an Angus Reid poll that shows that although the gap in the national polls is closing, the Tories are getting a 4.5% higher swing in the key marginal seats: http://politicalbetting.com/index.php/archives/2010/02/24/pbar-poll-has-the-swing-45-pc-bigger-in-the-marginals/
It's less the overall figures that concern me - Angus Reid consistently show a far higher national Tory lead than all the other pollsters but like the others, the trend is towards Labour. What is concerning is that the Tories are still making more traction where it counts.
This is partly explicable by the Ashcroft funding of very intensive "long campaigns" in Tory target seats - though an ICM poll in January suggested Labour's key seat campaign was holding its own organisationally and had reached a similar percentage of marginal seat voters to the Tories' campaigning.
But it's also political and about positioning. The key seat swing voters are not typical of all voters, they have particular concerns that need to be calibrated and addressed if you want to win. They are not even typical of each other as they comprise many different types of voter, not just some generic stereotype like "Motorway Man","Worcester Woman" etc.
It's not fair, but the electoral system we have delivers the national decision to this small group of voters. I deplore the way First-Past-the-Post does this, but until we can change the system we have to understand and address the policy preferences - indeed sometimes prejudices - of swing voters in suburbia, seaside resorts and middle-sized middle England towns if we are going to get in and deliver as well on the complementary - not necessarily mutually exclusive - policy needs of places that (hopefully) always return Labour MPs like Hackney where I live.
So I hope Ed Miliband, who I understand is currently drafting our manifesto, will ensure that whilst it has broad themes and rafts of policy that will energise our activists and deliver on the needs of our base of consistent Labour voters, will also be peppered through with policies that resonate strongly with the key voters in the key seats where we currently, if the polls are to be believed, still lag too far behind the Tories.
I believe that we can win. I'm not sure I did believe that last year. But the Manifesto and the tone of the campaign will be decisive. We have to have a policy content and a language and mood to the campaign that wins back the critical voters in the critical seats.