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.

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Theresa May gambles that the EU will blink first

In her Brexit speech, the Prime Minister raised the stakes by declaring that "no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain". 

It was at Lancaster House in 1988 that Margaret Thatcher delivered a speech heralding British membership of the single market. Twenty eight years later, at the same venue, Theresa May confirmed the UK’s retreat.

As had been clear ever since her Brexit speech in October, May recognises that her primary objective of controlling immigration is incompatible with continued membership. Inside the single market, she noted, the UK would still have to accept free movement and the rulings of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). “It would to all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU at all,” May surmised.

The Prime Minister also confirmed, as anticipated, that the UK would no longer remain a full member of the Customs Union. “We want to get out into the wider world, to trade and do business all around the globe,” May declared.

But she also recognises that a substantial proportion of this will continue to be with Europe (the destination for half of current UK exports). Her ambition, she declared, was “a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement”. May added that she wanted either “a completely new customs agreement” or associate membership of the Customs Union.

Though the Prime Minister has long ruled out free movement and the acceptance of ECJ jurisdiction, she has not pledged to end budget contributions. But in her speech she diminished this potential concession, warning that the days when the UK provided “vast” amounts were over.

Having signalled what she wanted to take from the EU, what did May have to give? She struck a notably more conciliatory tone, emphasising that it was “overwhelmingly and compellingly in Britain’s national interest that the EU should succeed”. The day after Donald Trump gleefully predicted the institution’s demise, her words were in marked contrast to those of the president-elect.

In an age of Isis and Russian revanchism, May also emphasised the UK’s “unique intelligence capabilities” which would help to keep “people in Europe safe from terrorism”. She added: “At a time when there is growing concern about European security, Britain’s servicemen and women, based in European countries including Estonia, Poland and Romania, will continue to do their duty. We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe.”

The EU’s defining political objective is to ensure that others do not follow the UK out of the club. The rise of nationalists such as Marine Le Pen, Alternative für Deutschland and the Dutch Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom) has made Europe less, rather than more, amenable to British demands. In this hazardous climate, the UK cannot be seen to enjoy a cost-free Brexit.

May’s wager is that the price will not be excessive. She warned that a “punitive deal that punishes Britain” would be “an act of calamitous self-harm”. But as Greece can testify, economic self-interest does not always trump politics.

Unlike David Cameron, however, who merely stated that he “ruled nothing out” during his EU renegotiation, May signalled that she was prepared to walk away. “No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain,” she declared. Such an outcome would prove economically calamitous for the UK, forcing it to accept punitively high tariffs. But in this face-off, May’s gamble is that Brussels will blink first.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.