New poll gives Ken hope

Boris just two points ahead of Ken in first YouGov poll on mayoral race.

Don't write off Red Ken just yet. The first YouGov poll on the London mayoral race puts Boris ahead on first preferences by just two points (46 per cent). There are still other candidates to come, not least from the Greens and the Lib Dems, who could cut into Ken's vote ("Liberal Democrat candidate" is on 4 per cent and "some other candidate" is on 7 per cent), but this poll will reassure Labour officials rattled by an earlier ComRes survey that put Boris nine points ahead.

The significant support for Ken suggests that his age (he will turn 67 in June 2012) and his political baggage aren't necessarily barriers to his re-election. The poll also found that 56 per cent of voters approve of his time in office and that Ken is seen as more competent (52 per cent to 45 per cent) and in touch (44 per cent to 40 per cent) than Boris.

There is still plenty of ground to make up: in a straight contest between the pair, Boris would beat Ken by 46 per cent to 41 per cent, and 58 per cent of voters approve of his record. But this poll provides the Livingstone campaign with plenty of reasons to be cheerful.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

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