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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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.