A worrying poll for Labour

More people will blame Labour than the Tories if the economy gets worse.

On the surface, the latest Reuters/Ipsos MORI political monitor should gladden Labour souls. Last month's poll put the Tories neck and neck with Labour on 40 per cent, but this month's gives Ed Miliband's party a 7-point lead. Labour is up 2 points to 42 per cent and the Tories are down 5 points to 35 per cent.

But dig deeper and some worrying trends emerge for the red team. Net satisfaction with Miliband, which stood at +1 last month, is back down to -8 (see graph below). More worryingly, just 17 per cent of voters believe the Labour leader is ready to be prime minister, compared to 69 per cent who believe he is not.

By contrast, 31 per cent of voters say Labour is ready to form the next government, a finding that will again give Miliband's critics cause to ask if the party could be performing better under an alternative leader.

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Elsewhere, there's more evidence that voters share George Osborne's belief that the government is clearing up "Labour's mess". Asked who they will blame if the economy gets worse over the next 12 months, 22 per cent of respondents say the last Labour government but just 10 per cent say the Tories.

A total of 27 per cent would blame both the Tories and the Lib Dems but that's only 5 per cent more than would blame Labour. Given that the economy was growing at an annual rate of 4 per cent under Labour but has ground to a halt under Osborne, that's some achievement by the Conservatives. As Douglas Alexander recently lamented, Labour's marathon leadership contest allowed the coalition to define the terms of debate from the start.

Miliband's troubles, however, are as nothing compared to those of Nick Clegg. Net satisfaction with the Deputy PM has plummeted from -18 last month to -32 this month. For the first time, Clegg's approval rating is below that of the coalition. By contrast, net satisfaction with Cameron remains at -3, a poor rating but not terrible. Miliband, who has led Cameron in every MORI poll since January, is now behind the Prime Minister. Personal approval ratings are often a better long-term indicator of the next election result than voting intentions. Labour frequently led the Tories under Neil Kinnock, for instance, but Kinnock was never rated above John Major as a potential prime minister.

Can Labour defy history and win an election under an unpopular leader? That is the question some in the party will be asking today.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Shock Wales YouGov poll shows that Labour's Ukip nightmare is coming true

The fear that voting Ukip would prove a gateway drug for Labour voters appears to be being borne out. 

An astonishing new poll for the Cardiff University Governance Centre and ITV Cymru shows a historic result: the Conservatives ending a 167-year wait for an election victory in Wales.

The numbers that matter:

Conservatives: 40 per cent

Labour: 30 per cent

Plaid Cymru: 13 per cent

Liberal Democrats: 8 per cent

Ukip: 6 per cent

Others: 3 per cent

And for context, here’s what happened in 2015:

Labour 36.9 per cent

Conservatives 27.2 per cent

Ukip 13.6 per cent

Plaid Cymru 12.1 per cent

Liberal Democrat 6.5 per cent

Others 2.6 per cent

There’s a lot to note here. If repeated at a general election, this would mean Labour losing an election in Wales for the first time since the First World War. In addition to losing the popular vote, they would shed ten seats to the Tories.

We're talking about a far more significant reverse than merely losing the next election. 

I don’t want to detract from how bad the Labour performance is in a vacuum – they have lost 6.9 per cent of their vote on 2015, in any case the worst election performance for Labour in Wales since the rout of 1983.  But the really terrifying thing for Labour is not what is happening to their own vote, though that is pretty terrifying.

It’s what’s happened to the Conservative vote – growing in almost every direction. There is some direct Labour to Tory slippage. But the big problem is the longtime fear of Labour MPs – that voting for Ukip would be a gateway drug to voting for the mainstream right – appears to be being realised. Don't forget that most of the Ukip vote in Wales is drawn from people who voted Labour in 2010. (The unnoticed shift of the 2010-5 parliament in a lot of places was a big chunk of the Labour 2010 vote went to Ukip, but was replaced by a chunk of the 2010 Liberal Democrat vote.) 

If repeated across the United Kingdom, the Tory landslide will be larger than the 114 majority suggested by the polls and a simple national swing.

As I’ve said before, polls are useful, but they are not the be-all and end-all. The bad news is that this very much supports the pattern at elections since the referendum – Labour falling back, the Tories losing some votes to the Liberal Democrats but more than making up the loss thanks to the collapse of Ukip.

The word from Welsh Labour is that these figures “look about right” at least as far as the drop in the Labour vote, though of course they have no idea what is going on with their opponents’ vote share. As for the Conservatives, their early experiences on the doorstep do show the Ukip vote collapsing to their benefit.

One Labour MP said to me a few days again that they knew their vote was holding up – what they didn’t know was what was happening to their opponents. That’s particularly significant if you have a “safe seat” but less than 50 per cent of the vote.

Wales has local elections throughout the country on 4 May. They should provide an early sign whether these world-shaking figures are really true. 

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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