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Labour really haven't had much electoral fun since the 'election that never was' in 2007, so the Party can hardly be blamed for having a ... er ... party tonight.  But my sense is that the smart money should remain on the Conservatives for the general election. Here's eight reasons why.

 1. Mid-term local elections tell you little about general election performance. Labour won on share of the vote in local elections in 1980 and 1981 and in 1989 and 1990 and incredibly Hague wiped the floor with Labour in 1999.

 2. As Mike Smithson at Political Betting regularly points out leadership approval ratings are generally a better guide to likely general election outcomes at this point in the electoral cycle than voting intention. On this measure, Miliband still lags Cameron with the former scoring a net rating of - 46 to the latter's - 31 in the latest Yougov poll.

 3. Given the importance the electorate currently places on the economy, perceptions of economic competence are also very important guides. Once again, Labour lags the Conservatives with Cameron and Osborne trusted by 39% compared to Miliband and Balls's 30% in the same Yougov poll which is significant given the damage done to the Government's reputation by the double dip and the unpopular Budget.

 4. The Government has twelve quarters for the economy to pick up. The economy is clearly in the doldrums but time is still just about on the Conservatives' side. If things do get better (maybe not even by a very great deal), the political mood will shift again, Osborne will appear vindicated and Labour's regular forecasts of doom could well sound hollow.

 5. The double dip is not an 'economic inflection point'.  Significant and long-lasting electoral shifts usually follow a major economic crisis which causes an irreversible collapse of trust in the Government. Think the Winter of Discontent, Black Wednesday, the 2008 Crash. The double dip has clearly damaged the Government's reputation but it does not nearly compare to those previous economic problems in terms of political intensity.

 6. Cameron has yet to have his first-term defining moment. It's often the case that new PMs face a big test which convinces the voters that they really have a leader they can trust assuming they succeed. For Thatcher, of course, it was the Falklands, for Blair probably Kosovo.  Maybe Cameron won't have such an opportunity to prove his cojones but if he does, comes out on top and the economy feels a bit more buoyant, he is likely to regain serious momentum.

 7. It seems that some considerable part of the Conservatives' trouble today resulted from a proportion of their voters defecting to UKIP. Many of these voters will probably return to the Conservatives at the time of the election when protest votes tend to wither.

 8. As is well known, Conservative backbenchers are brutal with leaders who look like losers. If we get to 2014 and Cameron is still trailing, I wouldn't bet on him staying in post. The Conservatives going into the election looking fresh and energised with a new leader and a new Chancellor might just squeak it as they did in 1992.

Of course, the economy could really tank, Osborne could score more own goals and the Coalition could deteriorate into endless back-biting. In which case, ignore all of the above.  In politics as in Hollywood, no-one really knows anything.


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