Lib Dems in first place in new poll

New poll puts Lib Dems up 12 points to 32 per cent, ahead of the Tories.

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Latest poll (BPIX/Mail on Sunday) Labour 53 seats short of a majority.

There are no fewer than five new polls out tonight, all of which show a dramatic rise in support for the Lib Dems and two of which put Nick Clegg's party in the lead.

The latest BPIX poll for the Mail on Sunday puts the Lib Dems up 12 points to 32 per cent, the Tories down seven to 31 per cent and Labour down three to 28 per cent. Not since the 1980s and the height of of the SDP-Liberal Alliance has a poll put the third party out in front.

But if repeated at the election on a uniform swing, Labour would emerge as the largest single party in a hung parliament. The vagaries of the first-past-the-post system mean that Gordon Brown would be left 53 seats short of a majority.

Elsewhere, a OnePoll survey for the People puts the Lib Dems on 33 per cent, with the Tories on 27 per cent and Labour on 23 per cent. While the YouGov daily tracker has the Tories unchanged on 33 per cent, Labour up two to 30 per cent and the Lib Dems down one to 29 per cent. On a uniform swing, the figures would leave Labour 39 seats short of a majority. ComRes and ICM also have new polls out tonight, both showing a surge in Lib Dem support since the leaders' debate.

New Statesman Poll of Polls

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Hung parliament, Labour 47 seats short.

It's fair to say that none of the parties expected to be in this position just 18 days before the election and all are having to rapidly re-evaluate their strategies.

Labour has responded to the Lib Dems' poll bounce by repeatedly highlighting the similarities between the two parties. In part, this is a last-ditch bid to win over Clegg but it's also an attempt to persuade floating voters that there's no need to vote Lib Dem: Labour is offering just the same.

So far the party has largely welcomed the surge in Lib Dem support. It leaves David Cameron fighting a war on two fronts and makes it unlikely that the Tories will win the 23 Lib Dem seats they need to secure a majority of one. But should the Lib Dems start to make advances in Labour's northern heartlands, such tolerance will soon fade.

Meanwhile, the Tories and the conservative blogosphere have gone on the attack, warning again of the dangers of a hung parliament and painting Clegg as an undemocratic Europhile.

Whether or not the Lib Dem bounce continues into next week, the surge in support for the party has been the most remarkable feature of the campaign so far. Clegg has every chance of repeating his initial success in Thursday's foreign affairs debate, an area where the Lib Dems, the only one of the three parties to oppose the Iraq war, are strong.

Cameron's decision to agree to the leaders' debates, at a time when he had most to lose, may come to be seen as a gigantic strategic blunder.

 

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Find the EU renegotiation demands dull? Me too – but they are important

It's an old trick: smother anything in enough jargon and you can avoid being held accountable for it.

I don’t know about you, but I found the details of Britain’s European Union renegotiation demands quite hard to read. Literally. My eye kept gliding past them, in an endless quest for something more interesting in the paragraph ahead. It was as if the word “subsidiarity” had been smeared in grease. I haven’t felt tedium quite like this since I read The Lord of the Rings and found I slid straight past anything written in italics, reasoning that it was probably another interminable Elvish poem. (“The wind was in his flowing hair/The foam about him shone;/Afar they saw him strong and fair/Go riding like a swan.”)

Anyone who writes about politics encounters this; I call it Subclause Syndrome. Smother anything in enough jargon, whirr enough footnotes into the air, and you have a very effective shield for protecting yourself from accountability – better even than gutting the Freedom of Information laws, although the government seems quite keen on that, too. No wonder so much of our political conversation ends up being about personality: if we can’t hope to master all the technicalities, the next best thing is to trust the person to whom we have delegated that job.

Anyway, after 15 cups of coffee, three ice-bucket challenges and a bottle of poppers I borrowed from a Tory MP, I finally made it through. I didn’t feel much more enlightened, though, because there were notable omissions – no mention, thankfully, of rolling back employment protections – and elsewhere there was a touching faith in the power of adding “language” to official documents.

One thing did stand out, however. For months, we have been told that it is a terrible problem that migrants from Europe are sending child benefit to their families back home. In future, the amount that can be claimed will start at zero and it will reach full whack only after four years of working in Britain. Even better, to reduce the alleged “pull factor” of our generous in-work benefits regime, the child benefit rate will be paid on a ratio calculated according to average wages in the home country.

What a waste of time. At the moment, only £30m in child benefit is sent out of the country each year: quite a large sum if you’re doing a whip round for a retirement gift for a colleague, but basically a rounding error in the Department for Work and Pensions budget.

Only 20,000 workers, and 34,000 children, are involved. And yet, apparently, this makes it worth introducing 28 different rates of child benefit to be administered by the DWP. We are given to understand that Iain Duncan Smith thinks this is barmy – and this is a man optimistic enough about his department’s computer systems to predict in 2013 that 4.46 million people would be claiming Universal Credit by now*.

David Cameron’s renegotiation package was comprised exclusively of what Doctor Who fans call handwavium – a magic substance with no obvious physical attributes, which nonetheless helpfully advances the plot. In this case, the renegotiation covers up the fact that the Prime Minister always wanted to argue to stay in Europe, but needed a handy fig leaf to do so.

Brace yourself for a sentence you might not read again in the New Statesman, but this makes me feel sorry for Chris Grayling. He and other Outers in the cabinet have to wait at least two weeks for Cameron to get the demands signed off; all the while, Cameron can subtly make the case for staying in Europe, while they are bound to keep quiet because of collective responsibility.

When that stricture lifts, the high-ranking Eurosceptics will at last be free to make the case they have been sitting on for years. I have three strong beliefs about what will happen next. First, that everyone confidently predicting a paralysing civil war in the Tory ranks is doing so more in hope than expectation. Some on the left feel that if Labour is going to be divided over Trident, it is only fair that the Tories be split down the middle, too. They forget that power, and patronage, are strong solvents: there has already been much muttering about low-level blackmail from the high command, with MPs warned about the dire influence of disloyalty on their career prospects.

Second, the Europe campaign will feature large doses of both sides solemnly advising the other that they need to make “a positive case”. This will be roundly ignored. The Remain team will run a fear campaign based on job losses, access to the single market and “losing our seat at the table”; Leave will run a fear campaign based on the steady advance of whatever collective noun for migrants sounds just the right side of racist. (Current favourite: “hordes”.)

Third, the number of Britons making a decision based on a complete understanding of the renegotiation, and the future terms of our membership, will be vanishingly small. It is simply impossible to read about subsidiarity for more than an hour without lapsing into a coma.

Yet, funnily enough, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just as the absurd complexity of policy frees us to talk instead about character, so the onset of Subclause Syndrome in the EU debate will allow us to ask ourselves a more profound, defining question: what kind of country do we want Britain to be? Polling suggests that very few of us see ourselves as “European” rather than Scottish, or British, but are we a country that feels open and looks outwards, or one that thinks this is the best it’s going to get, and we need to protect what we have? That’s more vital than any subclause. l

* For those of you keeping score at home, Universal Credit is now allegedly going to be implemented by 2021. Incidentally, George Osborne has recently discovered that it’s a great source of handwavium; tax credit cuts have been postponed because UC will render such huge savings that they aren’t needed.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle