Where is Labour?

Ed Miliband needs the summer months for a charm offensive.

His poll lead is deteriorating. His personal approval is getting steadily worse. He's had an ugly couple of PMQs against a buoyant prime minister. The Tories are showing a new discipline. The economy is improving.

Labour's poll lead is on just three per cent – within the margin of error – in today's ComRes poll for the Independent. YouGov's tracker puts them on six per cent. Worse still, on the three issues the public considers most important – the economy, immigration and health – Labour is trailing far behind on all but the last. And even on health Jeremy Hunt's recent attacks showed a level of Tory confidence which should make the opposition nervous.

The Conservatives are on a low gear, but you can feel their presence. Cameron's speech pledging to ban rape porn and introduce an opt-in filter dominated headlines for days, not least because he timed it for the first Monday of the dead summer period.

The online porn proposals are tailored to appeal to women voters, a group the Tories increasingly struggle with. Changes to child benefit, tax credits, the NHS and childcare handed Labour a 26-point lead over the Tories among women in February, compared to just seven points for men. Tory HQ took note and put a date in the diary. Cameron's speech won as much coverage as he could expect and triggered a national debate. He backed it up with a soft-focus 'I dote on my children' interview with women's magazine Grazia today.

The so-called 'racist vans', which drove around poor, mixed areas of London with some pretty ugly Children of Men-style demands for illegal immigrants to "go home", recently forced Twitter into a spasm of liberal outrage. They've been condemned by nearly everyone – Tory councillors, Nigel Farage, Vince Cable and others. But the polling shows the public likes it. Another tick.

Chairman Grant Shapps, a man whose charisma is so limited you would struggle to distinguish him from a whiteboard, even managed to secure some positive coverage with a speech relentlessly focusing on labour's weak points this morning. He deployed the lot: Miliband, Balls, the economy, welfare, immigration – the full menu.

Notice the carefully chosen targets: Cameron does touchy-feely speeches directed towards groups which distrust him, while unleashing the hounds of war on Labour's weak spots. Even Tory backbenchers, the nearest human approximation to cats in a bag, have a new discipline following Lynton Crosby's arrival.

What's Nick Clegg up to? The Liberal Democrat leader has had his Weetabix. He did a radio phone-in on Radio 5 yesterday, conducted his monthly Whitehall press conference this morning and will do his weekly LBC phone-in tomorrow.

Today the Lib Dems are releasing a booklet celebrating the party's achievements in government. Yes, that is not particularly convincing or engaging news, but at least you get the impression of a party that knows what it is trying to accomplish, even if it seems unlikely to achieve it.

Labour's only real coverage has come via Stella Creasy, whose campaign on internet trolls is ongoing and completely disconnected from her party. Andy Burnham has made some noises about the 111 NHS debacle and there have been murmurs about DNA for sex assault suspects.

There is no sense of urgency or mission from the Labour camp. The cynical assumption that Labour is following a 35% strategy of cruising to victory on the back of disillusioned Lib Dem voters and austerity politics appears more convincing by the day.

You hear similar things from inside Downing Street, with sources there saying there is no sense of purpose or direction.

But the Tories do at least have a strategy. It is a despairing, jaded, limited, joyless strategy of getting Labour on the wrong side of key dividing lines. But it is a strategy nonetheless and one they are pursuing with some aplomb.

Miliband is an interesting politicians and a radical one as well. He has much more potential than his detractors suggest. But if he thought he had earned the room to lie low and read books over the summer he is very much mistaken. Labour has the chance to own the news headlines during a dead period for news. It's troubling for their prospects that they have chosen not to.