Labour surges to a 15-point lead, but there's a catch

60% of voters still prefer Cameron as Prime Minister to Miliband.

The latest Times/Populus survey (£) is the most striking poll we've seen for months. It gives Labour a 15-point advantage over the Tories (45 to 30), the largest lead that any pollster has shown for the party in this parliament. If repeated on a uniform swing at a general election, those figures would send Ed Miliband to Downing Street with a majority of 136 seats.

But there's a catch. When asked whether they would rather have Cameron as prime minister or Miliband, just 31 per cent said they wanted the Labour leader, with 60 per cent preferring Cameron (a rise of four per cent since June). Of those who chose Cameron, 23 per cent said this was because they were happy with the job he is doing, while 37 per cent said they were unhappy but still preferred him to Miliband.

But this is a parliamentary system, you say, why should we care? The answer is that personal ratings are frequently a better long-term indicator of the election result than voting intentions. Labour often led the Tories under Neil Kinnock, for instance (sometimes by as much as 24 points), but Kinnock was never rated above John Major as a potential prime minister. A more recent example is the 2011 Scottish parliament election, which saw Alex Salmond ranked above Iain Gray even as Labour led in the polls. The final result, of course, was an SNP majority.

By the time of the election, when opposition parties come under greater scrutiny and governments tend to claw back support (as was the case in 2010), the Tories will hope that Cameron's superior personal ratings (if they last) will give them the edge. For all the opprobrium heaped on him by the right, it's a reminder that the PM is still an electoral asset for his party.

Labour leads the Conservatives by 15 points, its largest lead since the election. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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PMQs review: Theresa May shows again that Brexit means hard Brexit

The Prime Minister's promise of "an end to free movement" is incompatible with single market membership. 

Theresa May, it is commonly said, has told us nothing about Brexit. At today's PMQs, Jeremy Corbyn ran with this line, demanding that May offer "some clarity". In response, as she has before, May stated what has become her defining aim: "an end to free movement". This vow makes a "hard Brexit" (or "chaotic Brexit" as Corbyn called it) all but inevitable. The EU regards the "four freedoms" (goods, capital, services and people) as indivisible and will not grant the UK an exemption. The risk of empowering eurosceptics elsewhere is too great. Only at the cost of leaving the single market will the UK regain control of immigration.

May sought to open up a dividing line by declaring that "the Labour Party wants to continue with free movement" (it has refused to rule out its continuation). "I want to deliver on the will of the British people, he is trying to frustrate the British people," she said. The problem is determining what the people's will is. Though polls show voters want control of free movement, they also show they want to maintain single market membership. It is not only Boris Johnson who is pro-having cake and pro-eating it. 

Corbyn later revealed that he had been "consulting the great philosophers" as to the meaning of Brexit (a possible explanation for the non-mention of Heathrow, Zac Goldsmith's resignation and May's Goldman Sachs speech). "All I can come up with is Baldrick, who says our cunning plan is to have no plan," he quipped. Without missing a beat, May replied: "I'm interested that [he] chose Baldrick, of course the actor playing Baldrick was a member of the Labour Party, as I recall." (Tony Robinson, a Corbyn critic ("crap leader"), later tweeted that he still is one). "We're going to deliver the best possible deal in goods and services and we're going to deliver an end to free movement," May continued. The problem for her is that the latter aim means that the "best possible deal" may be a long way from the best. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.