The Tories claim they are ahead in the marginals: will they publish their polling?

A Conservative strategist says the party pulls two points ahead of Labour in Tory-held seats when the sitting MP is named.

There was much gloom among the Conservatives recently after a poll by Lord Ashcroft of their 40 most marginal constituencies showed Labour ahead by 14 points (a larger swing than nationwide) in the 32 seats in which it is in second place. But the pessimists in Cameron's party have been cheered by some new data reported today. In a piece on why the Conservatives believe they can win a majority in 2015, Dan Hodges quotes one "Tory analyst" as saying of Ashcroft's poll: "We reran it in the seats we hold but included the name of the sitting MP. We were ahead by 2 per cent."

The bounce, the Tories suggest, is attributable to "incumbency advantage" with sitting MPs benefiting from greater voter loyal than their unelected counterparts. The existence of this effect is not disputed. In 2010, both Tory and Labour incumbents performed disproportionately well. Labour's vote fell by 5.2 per cent in those seats where the incumbent stood again, compared to 7.4 per cent elsewhere, while the Tories' rose by 4.1 per cent in incumbent seats, compared to 2.9 per cent elsewhere. But without seeing the full results of the poll (the wording of the questions, the sample size, the weighting) it's hard to judge its reliability (it is always wise to be sceptical of off-the-record briefings on private polling).

So, it's worth asking, why don't the Tories publish the poll for all to see? Under the rules of the British Polling Council, they may even be forced to do so. As the BPC states, "In the event that the results of a privately commissioned poll are made public by a third party (i.e. external to the organisation that commissioned the survey, its employees and its agents — for example the leak of embargoed research) the survey organisation must place information on its website within two working days in order to place the information that has been released into proper context." Lord Ashcroft, it is safe to say, will be watching closely.

Conservative ministers listen to David Cameron speak at the party's conference in Manchester. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

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.

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