Labour gaining votes from disillusioned Lib Dems

Poll shows Labour closing the gap on the Tories, while the public is lukewarm about the coalition so

Labour is benefiting from voters deserting the Liberal Democrats, according to a new poll which also shows that economic uncertainty is cutting into support for the coalition.

The Guardian/ICM poll, published today, puts the Conservatives at 38 per cent, down 1 point on last month's Guardian poll, and 8 points lower than last week's YouGov survey.

This latest puts Labour just 4 points behind the Tories, with 34 per cent of the vote. The Liberal Democrats are on 19 per cent.

While this is an improvement on the dire 13 per cent support for the Lib Dems in the YouGov poll, there is still evidence of disillusionment among Lib Dem voters, many of whom are to the left of the leadership. Although the two other parties retained the votes of nine out of ten of those who supported them in the election, the Lib Dems retained just seven out of ten, and another two said they had switched to Labour.

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The poll shows a near-equal split of opinion on economic issues. Although a narrow majority of 51 per cent think that Britain is likely to fall back into recession, 43 per cent disagree. If nothing else, this shows that the initial boost in poll ratings after the Budget has not been sustained. Such uncertainty at this stage -- before the painful effects of deep public-sector cuts begins to be felt -- does not bode well for future support for the government. Ninety-one per cent said that the cuts and tax rises would hurt.

About the government's performance so far, the public is lukewarm. Asked to award it marks out of ten, the total score is just 5.1. Support for the coalition is considerably weaker in Scotland and the north of England, and -- perhaps unsurprising, but certainly telling -- the coalition has far greater support among rich voters than among poorer people.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

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

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