The Lib Dem bubble hasn't burst

Latest polls put Lib Dems ahead of Labour and show little decline in support.

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Latest poll (YouGov/Sunday Times) Conservatives 43 seats short of a majority.

There are no fewer than six new opinion polls out today, most of which show the Conservatives' lead beginning to recover.

The latest Ipsos MORI/News of the World poll will undoubtedly attract the most attention. It puts the Tories up four points to 36 per cent, Labour up two to 30 per cent and the Lib Dems down nine to a pre-debate level of 23 per cent. But since none of the remaining five show a similar decline in Lib Dem support, I think it's safe to assume this is a rogue poll (around one in twenty are).

Elsewhere, the YouGov daily tracker has the Tories on 35 per cent (+1), the Lib Dems on 28 per cent (-1) and Labour on 27 per cent (-2). If repeated on a uniform swing at the election, the figures would leave David Cameron 43 seats short of a majority in a hung parliament.

It's worth noting that after reaching a peak of 34 per cent last week, the Lib Dems' share of the vote has settled at around 28-29. This is still unusually high, but it does suggest that the surge may have peaked.

Meanwhile, the latest ComRes survey for the Sunday Mirror and the Independent on Sunday shows the Conservative lead falling back to five points after two earlier polls put it at eight-nine points. The poll puts the Tories down one to 34 per cent, the Lib Dems up two 29 per cent and Labour up three to 28 per cent.

New Statesman Poll of Polls

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Hung parliament, Conservatives 54 seats short.

Like ComRes, the latest ICM/Sunday Telegraph poll also suggests support for the Lib Dems remains healthy, with Clegg's party up one to 31 per cent. The Tories are on 35 per cent (+2) and Labour on 26 per cent (-2). On a uniform swing, the figures would leave Cameron 50 seats short of an overall majority.

There is also a new BPIX poll for the Mail on Sunday which has topline figures of Con 34 per cent (+3), Lib Dems 30 per cent (-2) and Lab 26 per cent (-2). Finally, a OnePoll survey for the People has the Tories on 32 per cent, the Lib Dems also 32 per cent and Labour on just 23 per cent. But it's currently unclear whether the company uses proper weighting, so I'm leaving it out of our Poll of Polls for now.

Overall, it looks the right-wing smears against Nick Clegg have failed to dent Lib Dem support and that his party is still set for a record-breaking performance at the election. Meanwhile, several of the polls suggest that the extraordinary possibility of Labour falling into third place at the election cannot be ignored.

In the case of the Tories, a significant amount of progress is needed in the remaining two weeks if they are to prevent Britain's first hung parliament since 1974.

 

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Brexit is teaching the UK that it needs immigrants

Finally forced to confront the economic consequences of low migration, ministers are abandoning the easy rhetoric of the past.

Why did the UK vote to leave the EU? For conservatives, Brexit was about regaining parliamentary sovereignty. For socialists it was about escaping the single market. For still more it was a chance to punish David Cameron and George Osborne. But supreme among the causes was the desire to reduce immigration.

For years, as the government repeatedly missed its target to limit net migration to "tens of thousands", the EU provided a convenient scapegoat. The free movement of people allegedly made this ambition unachievable (even as non-European migration oustripped that from the continent). When Cameron, the author of the target, was later forced to argue that the price of leaving the EU was nevertheless too great, voters were unsurprisingly unconvinced.

But though the Leave campaign vowed to gain "control" of immigration, it was careful never to set a formal target. As many of its senior figures knew, reducing net migration to "tens of thousands" a year would come at an economic price (immigrants make a net fiscal contribution of £7bn a year). An OBR study found that with zero net migration, public sector debt would rise to 145 per cent of GDP by 2062-63, while with high net migration it would fall to 73 per cent. For the UK, with its poor productivity and sub-par infrastructure, immigration has long been an economic boon. 

When Theresa May became Prime Minister, some cabinet members hoped that she would abolish the net migration target in a "Nixon goes to China" moment. But rather than retreating, the former Home Secretary doubled down. She regards the target as essential on both political and policy grounds (and has rejected pleas to exempt foreign students). But though the same goal endures, Brexit is forcing ministers to reveal a rarely spoken truth: Britain needs immigrants.

Those who boasted during the referendum of their desire to reduce the number of newcomers have been forced to qualify their remarks. On last night's Question Time, Brexit secretary David Davis conceded that immigration woud not invariably fall following Brexit. "I cannot imagine that the policy will be anything other than that which is in the national interest, which means that from time to time we’ll need more, from time to time we’ll need less migrants."

Though Davis insisted that the government would eventually meet its "tens of thousands" target (while sounding rather unconvinced), he added: "The simple truth is that we have to manage this problem. You’ve got industry dependent on migrants. You’ve got social welfare, the national health service. You have to make sure they continue to work."

As my colleague Julia Rampen has charted, Davis's colleagues have inserted similar caveats. Andrea Leadsom, the Environment Secretary, who warned during the referendum that EU immigration could “overwhelm” Britain, has told farmers that she recognises “how important seasonal labour from the EU is to the everyday running of your businesses”. Others, such as the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, the Business Secretary, Greg Clark, and the Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, have issued similar guarantees to employers. Brexit is fuelling immigration nimbyism: “Fewer migrants, please, but not in my sector.”

The UK’s vote to leave the EU – and May’s decision to pursue a "hard Brexit" – has deprived the government of a convenient alibi for high immigration. Finally forced to confront the economic consequences of low migration, ministers are abandoning the easy rhetoric of the past. Brexit may have been caused by the supposed costs of immigration but it is becoming an education in its benefits.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.