Ashcroft poll gives the Tories hope they can win Eastleigh in 2015

A new poll from Lord Ashcroft shows seven per cent of Lib Dem voters and 10 per cent of UKIP voters expect to vote Conservative at the general election.

One reason why by-elections are a poor predictor of general election results is that voters behave very differently in the former to the latter. People can vote for the party of their choice secure in the knowledge that only the identity of their MP, not the government of the country, will change. 

With this in mind, a new poll from the ever-prolific Lord Ashcroft (recently profiled by Andrew Gimson for the NS) offers useful evidence of how the result in Eastleigh could change in 2015. It shows that just 43 per cent of Lib Dem supporters in the constituency would vote for the party at the general election, with 13 per cent likely to defect to Labour, seven per cent to the Tories and a third undecided. Similarly, only 43 per cent of current UKIP voters expect to stick with the party in 2015, with 10 per cent planning to vote for the Conservatives.

Encouragingly for the Tories, 73 per cent of their supporters expect to vote for the party in the general election, with 23 per cent undecided. If we strip out the don't knows, the Conservatives enjoy a nine-point lead over the Lib Dems (33-24), with Labour in third place on 24 per cent and UKIP in fourth on 16 per cent. 

Is this strong evidence that the Tories will win Eastleigh in 2015? No, the high number of Lib Dem don't knows (34 per cent), at least half of whom are likely to return to the fold, as well as the small sample size (760) means we should be wary of drawing any conclusions. But on an otherwise dark day for the Tories, the Ashcroft poll gives the party a glimmer of hope. 

Lord Ashcroft at the Conservative conference in Birmingham last year. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Why Chris Grayling is Jeremy Corbyn's secret weapon

The housing crisis is Labour's best asset - and Chris Grayling is making it worse. 

It feels like the classic Conservative story: wait until the election is over, then cancel spending in areas that have the temerity to vote Labour. The electrification of rail routes from Cardiff to Swansea – scrapped. So too is the electrification of the Leeds to Manchester route – and of the Midland main line.

But Crossrail 2, which runs from north to south across London and deep into the capital's outer satellites, including that of Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, will go ahead as planned.

It would be grim but effective politics if the Conservatives were pouring money into the seats they won or lost narrowly. There are 25 seats that the Conservatives can take with a swing of 1 per cent from Labour to Tory, and 30 seats that they would lose with a swing of 1 per cent from Tory to Labour.

It wouldn’t be at all surprising if the Conservatives were making spending decisions with an eye on what you might call the frontline 55. But what they’re actually doing is taking money away from north-west marginal constituencies – and lavishing cash on increasingly Labour London. In doing that, they’re actually making their electoral headache worse.

How so? As I’ve written before, the biggest problem for the Conservatives in the long term is simply that not enough people are getting on the housing ladder. That is hurting them in two ways. The first is straightforward: economically-driven voters are not turning blue when they turn 30 because they are not either on or about to mount the first rungs of the housing ladder. More than half of 30-year-olds were mortgage-payers in 1992, when John Major won an unexpected Conservative majority, while under a third were in 2017, when Theresa May unexpectedly lost hers.

But it is also hurting them because culturally-driven voters are getting on the housing ladder, but by moving out of areas where Labour’s socially-concerned core vote congregates in great numbers, and into formerly safe or at least marginal Conservative seats. That effect has reached what might be its final, and for the Conservatives, deadly form in Brighton. All three of the Brighton constituencies – Hove, Brighton Kemptown and Brighton Pavilion – were Conservative-held in 1992. Now none of them are. In Pavilion they are third, and the smallest majority they have to overcome is 9,868, in Kemptown. The same effect helped reduce Amber Rudd’s majority in Hastings, also in East Sussex, to 346.

The bad news for the Conservatives is that the constituencies of Crawley, Reading, Swindon and in the longer-term, Bracknell, all look like Brightons in the making: although only Reading East fell to Labour this time, all saw swings bigger than the national average and all are seeing increasing migration by culturally-driven left-wing voters away from safe Labour seats. All are seeing what you might call “Hackneyfication”: commuters moving from inner city seats but taking their politics with them.

Add to that forced migration from inner London to seats like Iain Duncan Smith’s in Chingford – once a Conservative fortress, now a razor-thin marginal – and even before you add in the appeal of Jeremy Corbyn’s person and platform, the electoral picture for the Conservatives looks bleak.

(It should go without saying that voters are driven by both economics and culture. The binary I’ve used here is simplistic but helpful to understand the growing demographic pressures on the Conservatives.)

There is actually a solution here for the Tories. It’s both to build more housing but also to rebalance the British economy, because the housing crisis in London and the south is driven by the jobs and connectivity crisis in the rest of the United Kingdom.

Or, instead, they could have a number of measures designed to make London’s economy stride still further ahead of the rest, serviced by 5 per cent mortgages and growing numbers of commuter rail services to facilitate a growing volume of consumers from London’s satellite towns, all of which only increase the electoral pressures on their party. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.