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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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