Hung parliament: the evidence builds

New ComRes poll puts the Tories on 37 per cent

To believe, as I have, for several months now, that the next general election could result in a hung parliament is a "partisan belief", according to the Tory blogger Iain Dale.

Really? Tell that to the pollsters at ComRes, who have a new survey in today's Independent putting the Tories on 37 per cent (down 3 points on last month), Labour on 27 per cent (no change), the Liberal Democrats on 20 per cent (up 2 points) and other parties on 16 per cent (up 1 point).

And, as the Independent's Andy Grice observes:

Because of the way the first-past-the-post voting system works, the figures would leave the Tories six seats away from an overall majority if repeated at the election. They would have 320 seats, Labour 240, the Liberal Democrats 58 and other parties 14. These figures exclude those up for grabs in Northern Ireland. It is the second poll taken in the past two weeks to point to a hung parliament. An Ipsos MORI survey for the Observer, published nine days ago, put the Tories on 37 per cent, Labour on 31 per cent and the Liberal Democrats on 17 per cent.

I do, however, acknowledge that Lord Ashcroft's "marginal strategy" could help the Tories overcome the bias of the electoral system and the enormous swing needed at a national level to unseat Labour. The YouGov survey of 32 northern marginal seats, published in the Telegraph at the weekend, seemed to suggest that the Ashcroft strategy (and money!) is working, and gave the Tories a strong lead over Labour.

From the Telegraph:

The swing of 8 points in the marginal seats is better than the party is recording nationwide and the Tories need much smaller swings to pick up dozens more Labour seats further south. Beating the national average in the key swing seats is central to the Tory strategy for the next election, and the poll will be seen as vindication of the work of Lord Ashcroft, the Conservative vice-chairman who oversees campaigning in these constituencies.

Nonetheless, as the psephologist John Curtice concludes in the Independent, in a piece on the ComRes survey:

Even so, evidently the outcome next May is far from being a foregone conclusion.

To believe that Cameron has -- to use the popular cliché -- "sealed the deal" with the electorate is thus premature and, perhaps, to borrow a phrase, "partisan".

 

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Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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