Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Labour’s poll lead may be soft, but the Tories have most to fear

Two opinion polls out today put Labour’s lead at a soft, but steady, 8 points. It’s certainly nothing spectacular, and will serve as another reminder against complacency for any supporters naive enough to think the next election is in the bag. It’s not. But, that doesn’t mean Labour shouldn’t have room for (quiet) optimism.
The Conservatives are struggling. Struggling that is to get above 33% in any poll. Bear in mind that their 36.1% in the 2010 general election wasn’t enough to get them an outright majority, you can see the problems they have.

It’s become something of a game for contrary types on the left to suggest that Labour’s inability to stretch their lead to 15 points plus shows the party is vulnerable. Which may well be true. An ailing economy, rebellious backbenchers and those pesky Ukippers carving up the right, should result in a far more commanding lead.
But, right now, as they have been for a number of years, the public aren’t prepared to unambiguously endorse one party over the other.

I’d be far more concerned if I was a Tory than a Labour supporter. Analysing data from UK Polling Report, on the rare occasions they have led in the polls, it’s usually been nothing more than a couple of points or so. Without breaking through to that all important 40% mark, something Labour regularly achieves. Few Conservatives believe they’ll win a majority in 2015: 7% according to one finding.
Having said that, there are reasons to be hopeful. Three in fact. One: Ed Miliband. David Cameron is still his party’s biggest asset. The same cannot be said for Miliband, still being outperformed by his party. On a head-to-head, Cameron takes the points. Not by a huge margin, but it could still be enough to make peoples’ minds up come polling day. Although the public aren’t overly enamoured with any of the three leaders as things stand.

Two: if Labour’s lead is soft, it’s not as soft as UKIP’s. It would take a brave (and foolish) person to honestly believe UKIP will repeat their heroics in Eastleigh. 28% in a by-election is astonishing. But, also an anomaly. UKIP could perform strongly in a number of constituencies, but will fall well short of this figure. Peter Kellner, president of YouGov, expects their support to fall below 10%. And by three-to-one, Ukippers would choose a Cameron-led Tory government over an Ed Miliband-led Labour one. 
Three: an economic upturn can only benefit the incumbent. It will allow the Conservatives to justify their strategy, point to further good times ahead, and warn voters not to let Labour back in to undo all their good work, reminding them what they did to the nation’s finances when they were in office.

Yet, I’d still rather be in Labour’s position. Not only do the Conservatives have to compete against them in two year’s time, they now have an unwanted and potentially fatal battle on the right. UKIP may not reach double-figures, but that doesn’t mean they won’t have a large say in deciding who wins. Kellner found a quarter of Tories definitely or seriously planning to vote for them. It is these voters that could hand the election to Labour more than anything else.
This comment piece was first published on Speaker's Chair on Tuesday 12th March 2013

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