Tory support rises as Lib Dems fall back in new polls

Conservative lead back up to 10 points in latest ComRes poll.

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Latest poll (ComRes/Independent on Sunday/Sunday Mirror): Conservatives 11 seats short of a majority.

No fewer than four new polls out tonight, all of which show a rise in support for the Conservatives. The most striking is the latest ComRes survey for the Independent on Sunday and the Sunday Mirror, which has the Tory lead up to 10 points, the highest since February.

The poll puts the Conservatives up 2 points to 38 per cent, with the Lib Dems down 1 to 25 per cent and Labour also down 1 to 28 per cent. If repeated at the election on a uniform swing, those figures would leave Cameron 11 seats short of a majority. But in practice, since the Tories are still likely to perform disproportionately well in the marginals, a lead of this size should be just enough for a majority.

Elsewhere, the YouGov daily tracker has the Tories up 1 to 35 per cent, the Lib Dems unchanged on 28 per cent and Labour down 1 to 27 per cent. On a uniform swing, this result would leave the Conservatives 41 seats short of a majority.

It seems safe to conclude that David Cameron's winning performance in the final leaders' debate has given the Tories a slight boost. At the very least, it looks like the Conservatives can expect to emerge as the single largest party on Friday morning, with the Lib Dems providing "confidence and supply" in a hung parliament.

New Statesman Poll of Polls

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Hung parliament: Conservatives 31 seats short of a majority.

The latest ICM/Sunday Telegraph survey provides further evidence of a Conservative bounce. The poll puts the Tories up 3 points to 36 per cent, Labour up 1 to 29 per cent and the Lib Dems down 3 to 27 per cent. Labour will be relieved that ICM, like YouGov, suggests the Lib Dem surge is abating.

But there's also a new Angus Reid survey for the Sunday Express that has the Tories up 2 to 36 per cent, the Lib Dems down 1 to 29 per cent and Labour unchanged on just 23 per cent.

Gordon Brown will have to hope that Mike Smithson's golden rule -- that the survey with Labour in the least favourable position is normally the most accurate -- is mistaken this time. On a uniform swing, those figures would leave the Tories just three seats short of a majority.

UPDATE: The final poll of the night, a BPIX survey for the Mail on Sunday, has the Tories unchanged on 34 per cent, the Lib Dems unchanged on 30 per cent and Labour up 1 to 27 per cent.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The Tories are the zombie party: with an ageing, falling membership, still they stagger on to victory

One Labour MP in Brighton spotted a baby in a red Babygro and said to me: “There’s our next [Labour] prime minister.”

All football clubs have “ultras” – and, increasingly, political parties do, too: although, in the case of political parties, their loudest and angriest supporters are mostly found on the internet. The SNP got there first: in the early days of email, journalists at the Scotsman used to receive bilious missives complaining about its coverage – or, on occasion, lack of coverage – of what the Scottish National Party was up to. The rest soon followed, with Ukip, the Labour Party and even the crushed Liberal Democrats now boasting a furious electronic horde.

The exception is the Conservative Party. Britain’s table-topping team might have its first majority in 18 years and is widely expected in Westminster to remain in power for another decade. But it doesn’t have any fans. The party’s conference in Manchester, like Labour’s in Brighton, will be full to bursting. But where the Labour shindig is chock-full of members, trade unionists and hangers-on from the charitable sector, the Conservative gathering is a more corporate affair: at the fringes I attended last year, lobbyists outnumbered members by four to one. At one, the journalist Peter Oborne demanded to know how many people in the room were party members. It was standing room only – but just four people put their hands up.

During Grant Shapps’s stint at Conservative headquarters, serious attempts were made to revive membership. Shapps, a figure who is underrated because of his online blunders, and his co-chair Andrew Feldman were able to reverse some of the decline, but they were running just to stand still. Some of the biggest increases in membership came in urban centres where the Tories are not in contention to win a seat.

All this made the 2015 election win the triumph of a husk. A party with a membership in long-term and perhaps irreversible decline, which in many seats had no activists at all, delivered crushing defeats to its opponents across England and Wales.

Like José Mourinho’s sides, which, he once boasted, won “without the ball”, the Conservatives won without members. In Cumbria the party had no ground campaign and two paper candidates. But letters written by the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, were posted to every household where someone was employed making Trident submarines, warning that their jobs would be under threat under a Labour government. This helped the Tories come close to taking out both Labour MPs, John Woodcock in Barrow and Furness and Jamie Reed in Copeland. It was no small feat: Labour has held Barrow since 1992 and has won Copeland at every election it has fought.

The Tories have become the zombies of British politics: still moving though dead from the neck down. And not only moving, but thriving. One Labour MP in Brighton spotted a baby in a red Babygro and said to me: “There’s our next [Labour] prime minister.” His Conservative counterparts also believe that their rivals are out of power for at least a decade.

Yet there are more threats to the zombie Tories than commonly believed. The European referendum will cause endless trouble for their whips over the coming years. And for all there’s a spring in the Conservative step at the moment, the party has a majority of only 12 in the Commons. Parliamentary defeats could easily become commonplace. But now that Labour has elected Jeremy Corbyn – either a more consensual or a more chaotic leader than his predecessors, depending on your perspective – division within parties will become a feature, rather than a quirk, at Westminster. There will be “splits” aplenty on both sides of the House.

The bigger threat to Tory hegemony is the spending cuts to come, and the still vulnerable state of the British economy. In the last parliament, George Osborne’s cuts fell predominantly on the poorest and those working in the public sector. They were accompanied by an extravagant outlay to affluent retirees. As my colleague Helen Lewis wrote last week, over the next five years, cuts will fall on the sharp-elbowed middle classes, not just the vulnerable. Reductions in tax credits, so popular among voters in the abstract, may prove just as toxic as the poll tax and the abolition of the 10p bottom income-tax rate – both of which were popular until they were actually implemented.

Added to that, the British economy has what the economist Stephen King calls “the Titanic problem”: a surplus of icebergs, a deficit of lifeboats. Many of the levers used by Gordon Brown and Mervyn King in the last recession are not available to David Cameron and the chief of the Bank of England, Mark Carney: debt-funded fiscal stimulus is off the table because the public finances are already in the red. Interest rates are already at rock bottom.

Yet against that grim backdrop, the Conservatives retain the two trump cards that allowed them to win in May: questions about Labour’s economic competence, and the personal allure of David Cameron. The public is still convinced that the cuts are the result of “the mess” left by Labour, however unfair that charge may be. If a second crisis strikes, it could still be the Tories who feel the benefit, if they can convince voters that the poor state of the finances is still the result of New Labour excess rather than Cameroon failure.

As for Cameron, in 2015 it was his lead over Ed Miliband as Britons’ preferred prime minister that helped the Conservatives over the line. This time, it is his withdrawal from politics which could hand the Tories a victory even if the economy tanks or cuts become widely unpopular. He could absorb the hatred for the failures and the U-turns, and then hand over to a fresher face. Nicky Morgan or a Sajid Javid, say, could yet repeat John Major’s trick in 1992, breathing life into a seemingly doomed Conservative project. For Labour, the Tory zombie remains frustratingly lively. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory tide