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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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn turns "the nasty party" back on Theresa May

The Labour leader exploited Conservative splits over disability benefits.

It didn't take long for Theresa May to herald the Conservatives' Copeland by-election victory at PMQs (and one couldn't blame her). But Jeremy Corbyn swiftly brought her down to earth. The Labour leader denounced the government for "sneaking out" its decision to overrule a court judgement calling for Personal Independence Payments (PIPs) to be extended to those with severe mental health problems.

Rather than merely expressing his own outrage, Corbyn drew on that of others. He smartly quoted Tory backbencher Heidi Allen, one of the tax credit rebels, who has called on May to "think agan" and "honour" the court's rulings. The Prime Minister protested that the government was merely returning PIPs to their "original intention" and was already spending more than ever on those with mental health conditions. But Corbyn had more ammunition, denouncing Conservative policy chair George Freeman for his suggestion that those "taking pills" for anxiety aren't "really disabled". After May branded Labour "the nasty party" in her conference speech, Corbyn suggested that the Tories were once again worthy of her epithet.

May emphasised that Freeman had apologised and, as so often, warned that the "extra support" promised by Labour would be impossible without the "strong economy" guaranteed by the Conservatives. "The one thing we know about Labour is that they would bankrupt Britain," she declared. Unlike on previous occasions, Corbyn had a ready riposte, reminding the Tories that they had increased the national debt by more than every previous Labour government.

But May saved her jibe of choice for the end, recalling shadow cabinet minister Cat Smith's assertion that the Copeland result was an "incredible achivement" for her party. "I think that word actually sums up the Right Honourable Gentleman's leadership. In-cred-ible," May concluded, with a rather surreal Thatcher-esque flourish.

Yet many economists and EU experts say the same of her Brexit plan. Having repeatedly hailed the UK's "strong economy" (which has so far proved resilient), May had better hope that single market withdrawal does not wreck it. But on Brexit, as on disability benefits, it is Conservative rebels, not Corbyn, who will determine her fate.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.