Is the tide beginning to turn against the coalition?

Labour ahead in two consecutive polls for the first time since 2007.

The latest YouGov poll will encourage the thought in Labour circles that the tide is beginning to turn against the coalition. The survey again puts Labour two points ahead of the Tories, the first time the party has led in two consecutive polls since 2007. The party's rating (42 per cent) is also the largest share of the vote it's had for more than three years.

Poll

Latest poll (YouGov/Sun): Labour majority of 20.

It could, as UK Polling Report's Anthony Wells reminds us, be a short-term blip, but it's noticeable that it comes after a period in which the coalition has taken some heavy hits on tuition fees and spending cuts. Just as striking is the fact that support for Labour has risen an impressive 13 points since the election, a reflection of the fact that the party's brand is nowhere near as toxic as the Tories' was. Miliband must restore Labour's economic credibility but he is not charged with convincing significant sections of the electorate that his party is not homophobic, racist or sexist.

New Statesman Poll of Polls

Poll

Hung parliament, Labour 5 seats short.

If repeated at a general election on a uniform swing, the latest figures would give Labour a majority of 20 seats. That estimate doesn't take into account the likely effect of the coalition's planned boundary changes (which Labour peers narrowly failed to delay last night), which are likely to cost Labour a significant number of seats. According to a confidential briefing recently seen by Labour MPs, had this year's election been contested under the new boundaries, the party would have lost 25 seats, nearly 10 per cent. The Lib Dems would have lost seven seats -- more than 13 per cent of their total and the Conservatives 13 seats -- just over 4 per cent.

There are big challenges ahead for Miliband, not least establishing a consistent line on higher education, control orders and taxation, but for now all the key indicators are pointing in the right direction.

George Eaton is political editor of 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.

0800 7318496