Voters are choosing the best of a bad bunch

Two very different opinion polls yield ultimately similar results

Two very different opinion polls were published in the tabloids this morning.

A ComRes poll for the Sunday Mirror shows the Tories on 38 per cent, Labour on 29 per cent, and the Lib Dems on 19. This is a drop of 4 points for the Tories since the last ComRes poll and, if repeated at the general election, would leave the Conservatives five seats short of an overall majority.

As Anthony Wells at UK Polling Report points out, this is a direct reversal of the 4-point gain seen in the last ComRes poll, and marks a return to the results shown in the previous poll.

This is in tune with the pattern that has emerged over the past few months of polling. Fluctuations of a few points that indicate either a hung parliament, or a skin-of-the-teeth majority for the Tories, are invariably heralded as a remarkable blow or triumph for one party or the other, depending on which paper you're reading. Yet all these numbers really show is a depressing lack of conviction on the part of voters, and a continued sense that we're just picking the best of a bad lot.

An ICM poll for News of the World takes a different approach, focusing exclusively on 97 Labour-held marginal seats. For the uninitiated, marginal seats are those where the incumbent holds a small majority of votes; they are theoretically easier for the opposition to win. This poll gives the Conservatives 40 per cent, a 9.2 per cent hike on the last election. Labour gets 37 per cent, which is 7.4 per cent down from 2005, and the Liberal Democrats 14 per cent, a reduction of 3.8 per cent.

There is a slightly larger swing towards the Tories in the constituencies where they really need to win than in the country as a whole. But, as Mike Smithson at PoliticalBetting points out, the poll excludes Liberal Democrat-held marginal seats, which might be tougher for the Conservatives to win.

Further details in the ICM poll confirm that the swing towards the Tories is more to do with disillusionment with the Labour government than any active enthusiasm for the Conservatives. Just 28 per cent of respondents recalled seeing signs of Conservative campaigning in their area -- roughly equivalent to the 24 per cent who recalled seeing Labour campaigning.

Of two polls published on the same day, then, one shows encouragement for Labour and one hope for the Tories. The insistence of both parties that this is the election for change does not seem to have penetrated the inertia enveloping the electorate.

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Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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