Why Labour can still take heart from the latest polls

The idea that Labour could win has been implanted in the public's mind.

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Latest poll (Sun/YouGov): Conservatives 22 seats short of a majority.

It's a sign of how bad things have got for the Tories that the latest daily YouGov poll, showing the party's lead back up to 7 points, has caused such relief in Conservative circles. A few weeks ago that result, which puts us on course for a hung parliament, would have triggered much doubt and anxiety.

It's not surprising that the Tories have recovered ground after a more-than-competent spring conference and much favourable media coverage of David Cameron's speech.

According to Mike Smithson, the fieldwork for the poll started at 5pm on Sunday night and ended at 5pm last night, so it will also have captured some of the public reaction to Lord Ashcroft's decision to come out as a non-dom. My guess is that, regardless of its Byzantine complexity, the Ashcroft story will damage the Tories in future polls. The public will soon sense how at odds the whole affair is with Cameron's promise of an era of transparency and openness.

New Statesman poll of polls

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Labour 28 seats short of a majority.

More encouraging for Labour is the latest Independent/ComRes poll, which has the Tories ahead by only 5 points. It's the party's lowest lead in a ComRes poll since December 2008 and would leave Labour as the largest single party in a hung parliament.

Perhaps the most important effect of the past week's polling is that the idea that Labour could still win the election has been implanted firmly in the public's mind. Voters like to back a winner; they enjoy being able to say after the election that they supported the winning party. After the 1997 election, when asked who they had voted for, more people said they supported Labour than ever actually did.

The polls have also reaffirmed the government's own belief that it can and should win this election. Andrew Rawnsley recently made the astute point that this was hardly the case with the Tories. He wrote:

In the run-up to the 1997 election, when the Conservatives had been in power for a very long time, there were a lot of Tories who were ready to lose. They were fatalistically reconciled to defeat or exhausted with office or so consumed with hatred for each other that they'd rather go down than even make a pretence that they were united.

I don't believe this is the case with Labour. The coup attempt in January actually benefited Gordon Brown by resolving the leadership question once and for all.

Even if the Tory lead grows in the coming weeks, we can still expect this election to be competitive in a way few previously thought possible.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Commons Confidential: Fearing the Wigan warrior

An electoral clash, select committee elections as speed dating, and Ed Miliband’s political convalescence.

Members of Labour’s disconsolate majority, sitting in tight knots in the tearoom as the MP with the best maths skills calculates who will survive and who will die, based on the latest bad poll, observe that Jeremy Corbyn has never been so loyal to the party leadership. The past 13 months, one told me, have been the Islington rebel’s longest spell without voting against Labour. The MP was contradicted by a colleague who argued that, in voting against Trident renewal, Corbyn had defied party policy. There is Labour chatter that an early general election would be a mercy killing if it put the party out of its misery and removed Corbyn next year. In 2020, it is judged, defeat will be inevitable.

The next London mayoral contest is scheduled for the same date as a 2020 election: 7 May. Sadiq Khan’s people whisper that when they mentioned the clash to ministers, they were assured it won’t happen. They are uncertain whether this indicates that the mayoral contest will be moved, or that there will be an early general election. Intriguing.

An unguarded retort from the peer Jim O’Neill seems to confirm that a dispute over the so-called Northern Powerhouse triggered his walkout from the Treasury last month. O’Neill, a fanboy of George Osborne and a former Goldman Sachs chief economist, gave no reason when he quit Theresa May’s government and resigned the Tory whip in the Lords. He joined the dots publicly when the Resolution Foundation’s director, Torsten Bell, queried the northern project. “Are you related to the PM?” shot back the Mancunian O’Neill. It’s the way he tells ’em.

Talk has quietened in Westminster Labour ranks of a formal challenge to Corbyn since this year’s attempt backfired, but the Tories fear Lisa Nandy, should the leader fall under a solar-powered ecotruck selling recycled organic knitwear.

The Wigan warrior is enjoying favourable reviews for her forensic examination of the troubled inquiry into historic child sex abuse. After Nandy put May on the spot, the Tory three-piece suit Alec Shelbrooke was overheard muttering: “I hope she never runs for leader.” Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan, the Thelma and Louise of Tory opposition to Mayhem, were observed nodding in agreement.

Select committee elections are like speed dating. “Who are you?” inquired Labour’s Kevan Jones (Granite Central)of a stranger seeking his vote. She explained that she was Victoria Borwick, the Tory MP for Kensington, but that didn’t help. “This is the first time you’ve spoken to me,” Jones continued, “so the answer’s no.” The aloof Borwick lost, by the way.

Ed Miliband is joining Labour’s relaunched Tribune Group of MPs to continue his political convalescence. Next stop: the shadow cabinet?

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 27 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, American Rage