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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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.