Labour's poll surge: ten key points

What lies behind Labour's 10-point poll lead?

Today's polls should gladden the hearts of even the most pessimistic Labour supporters. An Independent/ComRes survey gives Ed Miliband's party a 10-point lead over the Tories, Labour's largest since last March and its largest with ComRes since 2005. Elsewhere, YouGov has them seven points ahead and Populus has them four points ahead.

A third of the fieldwork for the Populus and ComRes polls was conducted after the cash-for-access scandal broke, while the YouGov survey was carried out entirely on Sunday and Monday (i.e. after the publication of the Sunday Times story). It remains too early to say what effect (if any) the scandal has had on the parties' standings. That hasn't stopped many excitedly commenting on the fact that the third of the ComRes poll conducted after the scandal broke gives Labour a 17-point lead.

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Latest poll (ComRes/Independent) Labour majority of 114

Below the headline figures, the polls contain some fascinating findings on the Budget and other subjects, here's my summary.

1. Labour leads on taxation. One notable post-Budget shift is that Labour is now rated as the best party on taxation. Two weeks ago, the Tories led by a point (27-26) but the abolition of the 50p rate and the "granny tax" mean they now trail by three (28-25).

2. But the Tories still lead on the economy. Perhaps aided by a Budget that saw no significant revisions to the OBR's growth and borrowing forecasts, the Tories still lead Labour by four points (30-26) as the best party to manage the economy (see YouGov poll). It is this rating that Labour needs to shift to guarantee a majority at the next election.

3. No Budget boost for the Lib Dems. Despite the largest ever increase in the personal allowance (a policy that originated as a Lib Dem manifesto pledge and is supported by 90 per cent of people), Nick Clegg's party has seen no increase in support since the Budget. Populus offers us a clue why. Only 23 per cent recognised the policy as a Lib Dem idea, while 16 per cent credited the Conservatives and 19 per cent the coalition as a whole.

4. The rise of the "others". All three of today's polls show a surge in support for minority parties. YouGov has the Greens on three per cent and Ukip on six per cent, while ComRes has the Greens on five per cent and Ukip on four per cent.

Given that the latter cost the Conservatives up to 21 seats at the last election (there were 21 constituencies in which the UKIP vote exceeded the Labour majority), the continuing high levels of support for Nigel Farage's party will trouble Tory strategists.

5. Labour seen as more "united". One unsung achievement of Ed Miliband's leadership is the avoidance of the "blood bath" so many predicted would follow Gordon Brown's departure. Consequently, according to Populus, Labour is now seen as more united than the Tories (46-42).

New Statesman Poll of Polls

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Labour majority of 76

6. Personal allowance increase: small change? Despite the cost of raising the personal allowance to the government (£3.3bn in 2013-14), Populus shows that just 35 per cent believe that increasing the tax threshold from £8,105 to £9,205 will help them. 45 per cent said that it would make "little or no difference to me".

7. The "granny tax" backlash. It wasn't just the press that disliked the abolition of the pensioners' tax allowance. According to ComRes, only 31 per cent agree with the idea, while 59 per cent disagree.

8. 50p tax cut: not a stimulus. Had George Osborne sold the abolition of the 50p tax rate as an economic stimulus, voters might have been more sympathetic. Instead, he focused on the number of people avoiding it. As a result, it's unsurprising that 53 per cent (according to Populus) believe the move will do "nothing" to boost the economy.

9. The Tories' health problems. Andrew Lansley's toxic bill has finally made it onto the statute book and his party continues to suffer. YouGov shows that Labour's lead on the NHS has grown from 14 points (37-23) to 16 points (39-23).

10. Labour's in-built electoral advantage. If there was a general election tomorrow, every one of today's polls, assuming a uniform swing, would give Labour a majority. But what about the boundary changes, I hear you ask. Won't they tilt the balance in the Tories' favour? The truth is that the significance of the changes has been overstated by most on the left and the right. While the proposed reforms reduce Labour's electoral advantage, they do not eliminate it. Even after the new boundaries have been introduced, the Tories will need a lead of seven points on a uniform swing to win a majority (compared to one of 11 points at present), while Labour will need a lead of just four.

The biggest obstacle to a Tory majority at the next election may not be the NHS or the economy but the British electoral system itself.

Ed Miliband's party has a 10-point lead over the Tories, an Independent/ComRes survey shows. Photo: Getty Images

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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Why are boundary changes bad for Labour?

New boundaries, a smaller House of Commons and the shift to individual electoral registration all tilt the electoral battlefield further towards the Conservatives. Why?

The government has confirmed it will push ahead with plans to reduce the House of Commons to 600 seats from 650.  Why is that such bad news for the Labour Party? 

The damage is twofold. The switch to individual electoral registration will hurt Labour more than its rivals. . Constituency boundaries in Britain are drawn on registered electors, not by population - the average seat has around 70,000 voters but a population of 90,000, although there are significant variations within that. On the whole, at present, Labour MPs tend to have seats with fewer voters than their Conservative counterparts. These changes were halted by the Liberal Democrats in the coalition years but are now back on course.

The new, 600-member constituencies will all but eliminate those variations on mainland Britain, although the Isle of Wight, and the Scottish island constituencies will remain special cases. The net effect will be to reduce the number of Labour seats - and to make the remaining seats more marginal. (Of the 50 seats that would have been eradicated had the 2013 review taken place, 35 were held by Labour, including deputy leader Tom Watson's seat of West Bromwich East.)

Why will Labour seats become more marginal? For the most part, as seats expand, they will take on increasing numbers of suburban and rural voters, who tend to vote Conservative. The city of Leicester is a good example: currently the city sends three Labour MPs to Westminster, each with large majorities. Under boundary changes, all three could become more marginal as they take on more wards from the surrounding county. Liz Kendall's Leicester West seat is likely to have a particularly large influx of Tory voters, turning the seat - a Labour stronghold since 1945 - into a marginal. 

The pattern is fairly consistent throughout the United Kingdom - Labour safe seats either vanishing or becoming marginal or even Tory seats. On Merseyside, three seats - Frank Field's Birkenhead, a Labour seat since 1950, and two marginal Labour held seats, Wirral South and Wirral West - will become two: a safe Labour seat, and a safe Conservative seat on the Wirral. Lillian Greenwood, the Shadow Transport Secretary, would see her Nottingham seat take more of the Nottinghamshire countryside, becoming a Conservative-held marginal. 

The traffic - at least in the 2013 review - was not entirely one-way. Jane Ellison, the Tory MP for Battersea, would find herself fighting a seat with a notional Labour majority of just under 3,000, as opposed to her current majority of close to 8,000. 

But the net effect of the boundary review and the shrinking of the size of the House of Commons would be to the advantage of the Conservatives. If the 2015 election had been held using the 2013 boundaries, the Tories would have a majority of 22 – and Labour would have just 216 seats against 232 now.

It may be, however, that Labour dodges a bullet – because while the boundary changes would have given the Conservatives a bigger majority, they would have significantly fewer MPs – down to 311 from 330, a loss of 19 members of Parliament. Although the whips are attempting to steady the nerves of backbenchers about the potential loss of their seats, that the number of Conservative MPs who face involuntary retirement due to boundary changes is bigger than the party’s parliamentary majority may force a U-Turn.

That said, Labour’s relatively weak electoral showing may calm jittery Tory MPs. Two months into Ed Miliband’s leadership, Labour averaged 39 per cent in the polls. They got 31 per cent of the vote in 2015. Two months into Tony Blair’s leadership, Labour were on 53 per cent of the vote. They got 43 per cent of the vote. A month and a half into Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Labour is on 31 per cent of the vote.  A Blair-style drop of ten points would see the Tories net 388 seats under the new boundaries, with Labour on 131. A smaller Miliband-style drop would give the Conservatives 364, and leave Labour with 153 MPs.  

On Labour’s current trajectory, Tory MPs who lose out due to boundary changes may feel comfortable in their chances of picking up a seat elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.