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Why Cameron will struggle to win a majority

New poll suggests that the Conservative leader is unlikely to win the 117 seats he needs.

The headline from the latest Times/Populus poll, "Labour and Tories neck and neck in marginals", thrilled Labour tribalists this morning. Had Michael Ashcroft's millions really had so little effect?

It turns out that it depends which marginals you're talking about. The poll excluded the 50 Labour-Tory battlegrounds with the smallest majorities, presumably under the assumption that the Conservatives will pick these up easily. Instead, it included 51-150 in the list of Tory targets.

In these seats, the poll shows a swing of about 6.7 per cent to the Tories since 2005. According to UK Polling Report's Anthony Wells, a swing this large in the marginals is the equivalent of a 10-point lead nationally.

The Tories have made significant progress in the marginals since 2005. The survey puts them on 37.6 per cent, up from 31.4 per cent at the last election.

But even with these qualifications, the poll still won't make happy reading for David Cameron. With the Tories now holding only 193 seats (16 fewer than Labour in 1983) a swing of 6.7 per cent in the marginals still isn't large enough to guarantee Cameron an overall majority.

To secure a majority in the Commons, the Conservatives need to win no fewer than 117 seats. So even if, as the poll suggests, the Tories win 97 seats off Labour, they still need to gain at least 20 seats from the Liberal Democrats and others for an overall majority.

This task is more daunting than it sounds. First, Lib Dem MPs have a deserved reputation for digging in deep and winning a local following. Second, in a significant number of these seats the Tories are not in second place but third, putting these out of reach of the party.

Thus, we can draw two conclusions from this poll. First, that the Lib Dems are likely to deny Cameron victory and second, that the election is now likely to result in a minority Conservative administration and a second election this autumn.

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