Tory activists raise doubts over election strategy as poll gap narrows

FEARS are growing within the Conservative Party that David Cameron's strategy to get them back to power after 13 years in the wilderness may be faltering.

• Labour closing gap after 'cringe' adverts

Several Tory MPs spoke of their concern after two polls over the weekend showed Labour appeared to be closing the gap on the Tories, despite the continued unpopularity of Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his government.

A YouGov poll on Saturday put Labour only seven points behind, while a BPIX poll published yesterday put the Tories just nine points ahead. The narrowing gap suggests the Conservatives may end up being the largest party in a hung parliament rather than outright winners.

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Doubts also persist over recent Tory pre-election posters, featuring Mr Cameron's face alongside quotes about protecting the NHS and cutting the national deficit, which have been defaced on the street and lampooned on websites.

To add to the party's troubles, Mr Cameron and shadow chancellor George Osborne appeared to disagree yesterday over how severe cuts to public spending should be after the election, if the Tories win. While most Conservative MPs who spoke to The Scotsman said they were still confident of victory and supported their leader's strategy, a significant minority raised concerns.

However, most of the doubters believed it was now too late to turn back, because an election could be called at any moment. One said: "It's not the campaign I would have gone for, but it's too late now to do anything different. There could still be an election in March. We will have to wait and see if it works."

Another said: "I think we should have been tougher about spending cuts; that's where people are concerned at the moment and it's where Labour has lost all moral authority."

However, David McLetchie, who is running the Conservatives' general election campaign in Scotland, argued that the party was still on course for victory. "The important thing is we are still polling at around 40 points in the UK and 20 points in Scotland," he said. "If we get those in the general election, then we will win."

Not all Scottish Tory activists shared Mr McLetchie's optimism. One told The Scotsman that the poster campaign featuring Mr Cameron was "worse than the Tony Blair demon eyes one". He said: "It just made me cringe. It's not us."

The Liberal Democrats highlighted the apparent split between Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne on whether swingeing cuts would be needed in the first year of a Tory government. In separate interviews yesterday, Mr Cameron appeared to say "no", but Mr Osborne said "yes" to immediate and deep cuts.