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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The Brexit effect: The fall in EU migration spells trouble for the UK

The 84,000 fall in net migration to 248,000 will harm an economy that is dependent on immigration.

The UK may not have left the EU yet but Europeans are already leaving it. New figures from the ONS show that 117,000 EU citizens emigrated in 2016 (up 31,000 from 2015) - the highest level for six years. The exodus was most marked among eastern Europeans, with a fall in immigration from the EU8 countries to 48,000 (down 25,000) and a rise in emigration to 43,000 (up 16,000).

As a result, net migration has fallen to 248,000 (down 84,000), the lowest level since 2014. That's still nearly more than double the Conservatives' target of "tens of thousands a year" (reaffirmed in their election manifesto) but the trend is unmistakable. The number of international students, who Theresa May has refused to exclude from the target (despite cabinet pleas), fell by 32,000 to 136,000. And all this before the government has imposed new controls on free movement.

The causes of the UK's unattractiveness are not hard to discern. The pound’s depreciation (which makes British wages less competitive), the spectre of Brexit (May has refused to guarantee EU citizens the right to remain) and a rise in hate crimes and xenophobia are likely to be the main deterrents. Ministers may publicly welcome the figures but many privately acknowledge that they come at a price. The OBR recently forecast that lower migration would cost £6bn a year by 2020-21. As well as reflecting weaker growth, reduced immigration is likely to reinforce it. Migrants pay far more in tax than they claim in benefits, with a net 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.

Brexit has in fact forced ministers to increasingly acknowledge an uncomfortable 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. Brexit secretary David Davis, for instance, recently conceded that immigration woud not invariably fall after the UK leaves the EU. "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 (a level not seen since 1997), 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.”

Alongside the new immigration figures, GDP growth in the first quarter of 2017 was revised down to 0.2 per cent - the weakest performance since Q4 2012. In recent history, there has only been one reliable means of reducing net migration: a recession. Newcomers from the EU halved after the 2008 crash. Should the UK suffer the downturn that historic trends predict, it will need immigrants more than ever. Both the government and voters may only miss migrants when they're gone.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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