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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The private renting sector enables racist landlords like Fergus Wilson

A Kent landlord tried to ban "coloured people" from his properties. 

Fergus Wilson, a landlord in Kent, has made headlines after The Sun published his email to a letting agent which included the line: "No coloured people because of the curry smell at the end of the tenancy."

When confronted, the 70-year-old property owner only responded with the claim "we're getting overloaded with coloured people". The letting agents said they would not carry out his orders, which were illegal. 

The combination of blatant racism, a tired stereotype and the outdated language may make Wilson seem suspiciously like a Time Landlord who has somehow slipped in from 1974. But unfortunately he is more modern than he seems.

Back in 2013, a BBC undercover investigation found 10 letting agent firms willing to discriminate against black tenants at the landlord's request. One manager was filmed saying: "99% of my landlords don't want Afro-Caribbeans."

Under the Equality Act 2010, this is illegal. But the conditions of the private renting sector allow discrimination to flourish like mould on a damp wall. 

First, discrimination is common in flat shares. While housemates or live-in landlords cannot turn away a prospective tenant because of their race, they can express preferences of gender and ethnicity. There can be logical reasons for this - but it also provides useful cover for bigots. When one flat hunter in London protested about being asked "where do your parents come from?", the landlord claimed he just wanted to know whether she was Christian.

Second, the private rental sector is about as transparent as a landlord's tax arrangements. A friend of mine, a young professional Indian immigrant, enthusiastically replied to house share ads in the hope of meeting people from other cultures. After a month of responding to three or four room ads a day, he'd had just six responses. He ended up sharing with other Indian immigrants.

My friend suspected he'd been discriminated against, but he had no way of proving it. There is no centrally held data on who flatshares with who (the closest proxy is SpareRoom, but its data is limited to room ads). 

Third, the current private renting trends suggest discrimination will increase, rather than decrease. Landlords hiked rents by 2.1 per cent in the 12 months to February 2017, according to the Office for National Statistics, an indication of high demand. SpareRoom has recorded as many as 22 flat hunters chasing a single room. In this frenzy, it only becomes harder for prospective tenants to question the assertion "it's already taken". 

Alongside this demand, the government has introduced legislation which requires landlords to check that tenants can legitimately stay in the UK. A report this year by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants found that half of landlords were less likely to rent to foreign nationals as a result of the scheme. This also provides handy cover for the BTL bigot - when a black British tenant without a passport asked about a room, 58 per cent of landlords ignored the request or turned it down

Of course, plenty of landlords are open-minded, unbiased and unlikely to make a tabloid headline anytime soon. They most likely outnumber the Fergus Wilsons of this world. But without any way of monitoring discrimination in the private rental sector, it's impossible to know for sure. 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.