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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When Theresa May speaks, why don’t we listen?

Not many Prime Ministers have to repeat themselves three times. 

Theresa May is the candidate of Brexit and market panic. She ascended to the highest office because, in the fraught weeks after Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, she represented a safe haven for nervous Conservative MPs, the dependable family mutual that remained open while all along the Conservative high street, her rivals were shutting up shop.

Her popularity, as revealed in high poll ratings outside Westminster, too, owes itself to the perception that she is a serious politician in serious times, happily installed atop the ship of state to guide it through the rocky waters of Brexit negotiations.

May’s premiership has been defined by market panics of a different kind, however. The first is in the currency markets, where sterling takes a tumble whenever she pronounces on Britain’s future relationship with the European Union, falling both after her conference speech on 2 October and after her start-of-the-year interview with Sophy Ridge on 8 January. The second is in the opinion pages, where May’s stock oscillates wildly from bullish to bearish.

In the first months of May’s government, she was hailed as an Anglo-Saxon counterpart to Angela Merkel: a solid centre-right Christian democrat who would usher in a decade of conservative hegemony. More recently, she has been compared to Gordon Brown because of her perceived indecisiveness and repeatedly accused of failing to spell out what, exactly, her government’s Brexit objectives are.

In a symbol of the splits on the right between the Brexiteers and Remainers, the Economist, that bible of free-market globalisation and usually a reliable tastemaker as far as Westminster groupthink is concerned, began 2017 by dubbing the Prime Minister “Theresa Maybe”. Though May’s Downing Street is less concerned with the minutiae of what goes on in the public press than David Cameron’s, the contention that she is indecisive was a source of frustration.

There is an element of truth in the claim that May still views the world through a “Home Office lens”. One senior minister complains that Downing Street considers the Ministry of Justice as a “rogue outpost” of May’s old stomping ground, rather than a fully fledged department with its own interests and perspectives.

Yet even the most authoritarian of home secretaries would struggle to secure a conviction against May on the charge of opacity as far as her Brexit approach is concerned. She has hit the same grace notes with the reliability of a professional musician: Brexit means freedom from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and control over Britain’s borders, two objectives that can only be achieved as a result of Britain’s exit not only from the EU but also the single market. This was confirmed on 17 January in the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech in London.

David Cameron used to say that he would never have “a people”. Certainly, there is no Cameroon tendency in the country at large to match the generation of council house residents that became homeowners and lifelong Conservatives because of Margaret Thatcher and Right to Buy. However, there is, unquestionably, a Cameroon people or faction to be found at almost every rung of London’s financial services sector or at editorial meetings of the Economist, though it as at the Times and the Sun where the treatment of May is at its most noticably rougher than in the Cameron era. 

Michael Gove, her old rival, is not only employed as a columnist by the Times; he enjoys the confidence and admiration of Rupert Murdoch. That the Times secured the first British interview with Donald Trump was a coup for Murdoch, an old associate of the president-elect, and for Gove, who conducted it. It left May in the unlovely position of making history as the first prime minister to be scooped to a first meeting with a new American president by a sitting MP in modern times. It also attested to a source of frustration among May’s allies that she is, for all her undoubted popularity, still ignored or doubted by much of the right-wing establishment.

That condescension partly explains why her words are often listened to briefly, acted on hastily and swiftly forgotten, hence the pound’s cycle of falling when she makes an intervention on Brexit and rising shortly thereafter. The Lancaster House speech was designed to break this pattern. Downing Street briefed the most potent paragraphs at the weekend so that the markets could absorb what she would say before she said it.

As a result, the pound rallied as May delivered her speech, which contained a commitment to a transitional deal that would come into effect after Britain has left the EU. Some financiers believe this arrangement could become permanent, which once again demonstrates how much they underestimate May’s ability to enforce her will.

Being underestimated by Cameron’s people, in Westminster and the City, has the unintended effect of shoring up Theresa May’s position. A prolonged and sustained bout of panic would increase the pressure for a soft landing, but its absence makes it harder for Labour to oppose her effectively, although it has largely acquiesced to the Tory plan for Brexit, at least as far as membership of the single market is concerned. 

Yet for all the plaudits that the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech attracted, for all her undoubted popularity in the country, she is in the anomalous position of being a Conservative Prime Minister who has priorities on the European stage other than the preservation of the City of London and to whom Rupert Murdoch is not a natural ally.

As such, she may find that her deadlier enemies come from the right.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.