Final polls of the campaign point to a hung parliament

Final pre-election polls show the Tories around 30 seats short of a majority.

New Statesman - Polls Guide_1273093737947

Latest poll (ComRes/Independent) Conservatives 27 seats short of a majority.

22:05 UPDATE: The final poll of the night, a ComRes survey for the Independent, has the Tories unchanged on 37 per cent, Labour down one to 28 per cent and the Lib Dems up two to 28 per cent.

So, assuming a uniform swing, all of the polls published tonight point to a hung parliament. There's no sign of a late Tory surge but I expect the Conservatives will be fairly satisfied. They are confident that their strength in the marginals will give them more seats than national polls suggest.

The Tories are all but certain to emerge as the single largest party on Friday but unless, against expectations, they perform well in the Lib Dem marginals, I can't see them winning an overall majority.

If Cameron ends up around 20 seats short of a majority, I expect him to attempt to lead a minority government with the support of the DUP and other minority parties. If the shortfall is more like 30-40 then he will have no choice but to negotiate with the Lib Dems.

21:50 UPDATE: ICM for the Guardian has the Tories up three to 36 per cent, Labour unchanged on 28 per cent and the Lib Dems down two to 26 per cent.

20:06 UPDATE: It looks as if last night's YouGov poll, which had the Lib Dems way down on 24 per cent, was an outlier. Tonight's has them back up fourpoints to 28 per cent, with Labour down two to 28 per cent and the Tories unchanged on 35 per cent.

There's no sign of a late Conservative surge tonight but these polls are far from encouraging for Labour. Most show them level-pegging with the Lib Dems and two put Nick Clegg's party in front.

New Statesman Poll of Polls

New Statesman - Polls Guide_1273093992405

Hung parliament, Conservatives 27 seats short of a majority.

UPDATE: The latest Angus Reid/PoliticalBetting poll has the Tories up 1 to 36 per cent, the Lib Dems unchanged on 29 per cent and Labour up 1 to just 24 per cent. As ever, Gordon Brown will be hoping that Mike Smithson's golden rule -- that the poll with Labour in the worst position is normally the most accurate -- does not hold this time.

UPDATE: Populus for the Times has topline figures of Con 37 per cent (+1), Lab 28 per cent (+1) and Lib Dems 27 per cent (-1). On a uniform swing, that result would leave Cameron 24 seats short, a legislative handicap he would hope to overcome with the help of the DUP and others.

The first two polls of the night are out and both point to a hung parliament. An Opinium poll for the Daily Express has the Tories on 35 per cent (+2), Labour on 27 per cent (+1) and the Lib Dems on 26 per cent (-1). If repeated at the election on a uniform swing, that result would leave David Cameron 38 seats short of a majority.

Meanwhile, a new TNS BRMB poll puts the Tories down one to 33 per cent, with the Lib Dems also down one to 29 per cent and Labour unchanged on 27 per cent. On a uniform swing, the figures would leave Cameron 57 seats short of a majority.

So, like other recent polls, both suggest that the yellow tide is receding. That said, it's worth remembering how few expected to see any poll put the Lib Dems ahead of Labour the day before the election.

I'm expecting a glut of polls tonight, so stay tuned for updates throughout the evening.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.