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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Debunking Boris Johnson's claim that energy bills will be lower if we leave the EU

Why the Brexiteers' energy policy is less power to the people and more electric shock.

Boris Johnson and Michael Gove have promised that they will end VAT on domestic energy bills if the country votes to leave in the EU referendum. This would save Britain £2bn, or "over £60" per household, they claimed in The Sun this morning.

They are right that this is not something that could be done without leaving the Union. But is such a promise responsible? Might Brexit in fact cost us much more in increased energy bills than an end to VAT could ever hope to save? Quite probably.

Let’s do the maths...

In 2014, the latest year for which figures are available, the UK imported 46 per cent of our total energy supply. Over 20 other countries helped us keep our lights on, from Russian coal to Norwegian gas. And according to Energy Secretary Amber Rudd, this trend is only set to continue (regardless of the potential for domestic fracking), thanks to our declining reserves of North Sea gas and oil.


Click to enlarge.

The reliance on imports makes the UK highly vulnerable to fluctuations in the value of the pound: the lower its value, the more we have to pay for anything we import. This is a situation that could spell disaster in the case of a Brexit, with the Treasury estimating that a vote to leave could cause the pound to fall by 12 per cent.

So what does this mean for our energy bills? According to December’s figures from the Office of National Statistics, the average UK household spends £25.80 a week on gas, electricity and other fuels, which adds up to £35.7bn a year across the UK. And if roughly 45 per cent (£16.4bn) of that amount is based on imports, then a devaluation of the pound could cause their cost to rise 12 per cent – to £18.4bn.

This would represent a 5.6 per cent increase in our total spending on domestic energy, bringing the annual cost up to £37.7bn, and resulting in a £75 a year rise per average household. That’s £11 more than the Brexiteers have promised removing VAT would reduce bills by. 

This is a rough estimate – and adjustments would have to be made to account for the varying exchange rates of the countries we trade with, as well as the proportion of the energy imports that are allocated to domestic use – but it makes a start at holding Johnson and Gove’s latest figures to account.

Here are five other ways in which leaving the EU could risk soaring energy prices:

We would have less control over EU energy policy

A new report from Chatham House argues that the deeply integrated nature of the UK’s energy system means that we couldn’t simply switch-off the  relationship with the EU. “It would be neither possible nor desirable to ‘unplug’ the UK from Europe’s energy networks,” they argue. “A degree of continued adherence to EU market, environmental and governance rules would be inevitable.”

Exclusion from Europe’s Internal Energy Market could have a long-term negative impact

Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Amber Rudd said that a Brexit was likely to produce an “electric shock” for UK energy customers – with costs spiralling upwards “by at least half a billion pounds a year”. This claim was based on Vivid Economic’s report for the National Grid, which warned that if Britain was excluded from the IEM, the potential impact “could be up to £500m per year by the early 2020s”.

Brexit could make our energy supply less secure

Rudd has also stressed  the risks to energy security that a vote to Leave could entail. In a speech made last Thursday, she pointed her finger particularly in the direction of Vladamir Putin and his ability to bloc gas supplies to the UK: “As a bloc of 500 million people we have the power to force Putin’s hand. We can coordinate our response to a crisis.”

It could also choke investment into British energy infrastructure

£45bn was invested in Britain’s energy system from elsewhere in the EU in 2014. But the German industrial conglomerate Siemens, who makes hundreds of the turbines used the UK’s offshore windfarms, has warned that Brexit “could make the UK a less attractive place to do business”.

Petrol costs would also rise

The AA has warned that leaving the EU could cause petrol prices to rise by as much 19p a litre. That’s an extra £10 every time you fill up the family car. More cautious estimates, such as that from the RAC, still see pump prices rising by £2 per tank.

The EU is an invaluable ally in the fight against Climate Change

At a speech at a solar farm in Lincolnshire last Friday, Jeremy Corbyn argued that the need for co-orinated energy policy is now greater than ever “Climate change is one of the greatest fights of our generation and, at a time when the Government has scrapped funding for green projects, it is vital that we remain in the EU so we can keep accessing valuable funding streams to protect our environment.”

Corbyn’s statement builds upon those made by Green Party MEP, Keith Taylor, whose consultations with research groups have stressed the importance of maintaining the EU’s energy efficiency directive: “Outside the EU, the government’s zeal for deregulation will put a kibosh on the progress made on energy efficiency in Britain.”

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.