Sunday polls still in hung parliament territory

Two Sunday newspaper polls put the Conservatives on 37 per cent.

It wasn't long ago that 40 per cent was seen as the must-hit target for the Conservatives, for psychological if not electoral reasons. So it is a mark of how the polls have narrowed since the turn of the year that the Tories will embrace two Sunday newspaper polls that have them on 37 points.

A BPIX poll for the Mail on Sunday puts Labour on 30 per cent, a 7-point Conservative lead, while the YouGov daily tracker, published in the Sunday Times, puts the gap between the two parties at 5 points. Both polling organisations have been showing smaller Tory leads in recent weeks -- notably a YouGov/Sun survey that put the difference between the parties at just 2 points earlier this week.

According to UK Polling Report's Uniform National Swing counter, the Tories remain 41 seats away from an overall majority. The inadequacies of applying a national swing are well known. Yet while it is commonly thought that Lord Ashcroft's efforts in the marginals will mean the Conservatives can offset their electoral disadvantage, other factors may play against the party -- Lib Dem incumbency and tactical voting, to name two.

UPDATE: An ICM poll for the News of the World -- that's the newly Tory-supporting NoW -- puts the Conservatives on 39 points, up 1 on the previous week and 8 points ahead of Labour.

The Lib Dems remain on 19 per cent.

The poll also suggests that one in four people were less likely to vote Labour following last Wednesday's Budget, compared to 9 per cent who said they were more likely.

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Jon Bernstein, former deputy editor of New Statesman, is a digital strategist and editor. He tweets @Jon_Bernstein. 

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Benn vs McDonnell: how Brexit has exposed the fight over Labour's party machine

In the wake of Brexit, should Labour MPs listen more closely to voters, or their own party members?

Two Labour MPs on primetime TV. Two prominent politicians ruling themselves out of a Labour leadership contest. But that was as far as the similarity went.

Hilary Benn was speaking hours after he resigned - or was sacked - from the Shadow Cabinet. He described Jeremy Corbyn as a "good and decent man" but not a leader.

Framing his overnight removal as a matter of conscience, Benn told the BBC's Andrew Marr: "I no longer have confidence in him [Corbyn] and I think the right thing to do would be for him to take that decision."

In Benn's view, diehard leftie pin ups do not go down well in the real world, or on the ballot papers of middle England. 

But while Benn may be drawing on a New Labour truism, this in turn rests on the assumption that voters matter more than the party members when it comes to winning elections.

That assumption was contested moments later by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell.

Dismissive of the personal appeal of Shadow Cabinet ministers - "we can replace them" - McDonnell's message was that Labour under Corbyn had rejuvenated its electoral machine.

Pointing to success in by-elections and the London mayoral election, McDonnell warned would-be rebels: "Who is sovereign in our party? The people who are soverign are the party members. 

"I'm saying respect the party members. And in that way we can hold together and win the next election."

Indeed, nearly a year on from Corbyn's surprise election to the Labour leadership, it is worth remembering he captured nearly 60% of the 400,000 votes cast. Momentum, the grassroots organisation formed in the wake of his success, now has more than 50 branches around the country.

Come the next election, it will be these grassroots members who will knock on doors, hand out leaflets and perhaps even threaten to deselect MPs.

The question for wavering Labour MPs will be whether what they trust more - their own connection with voters, or this potentially unbiddable party machine.