The Tories are struggling in the marginals

New polling by Survation in Labour marginals Great Grimsby and Dudley North shows the party neck-and-neck with UKIP.

Two months after the conference season, Labour's poll lead remains stubbornly high at eight points, and there's more bad news for the Tories this morning. After last week's poll putting them in third place in marginal seat South Thanet (behind UKIP), two new surveys commissioned by UKIP donor Alan Bown, and carried out by Survation, show a similarly grim outlook for Cameron's party.

In Labour-held Great Grimsby and Dudley North (the 9th and 10th most winnable Conservative targets), support for the Tories has fallen dramatically since the election, leaving them neck-and-neck with UKIP. The party's vote share is down by 11 points to 20% in the former and by 12 points to 25% in the latter, with support for UKIP up by 16 points in Grimsby and 14 points in Dudley. Support for Labour has risen by seven points to 40% in Grimsby and by six points to 45% in Dudley.

While the Tories hope to win over UKIP defectors by warning that a divided right will put Ed Miliband in Downing Street, there's less potential than they'd like to do so. Just 30% of UKIP supporters in these seats voted Tory in 2010, with 10% voting Labour and 20% not voting. 

It's further evidence, if needed, of why a Conservative majority is the least likely of all the plausible outcomes of the next election. In both seats, the swing to Labour is greater than that shown by the national polls, suggesting that Miliband's party is winning support where it most needs it. That finding is line with Lord Ashcroft's recent marginals survey, which gave Labour a 14-point lead in the 32 Tory seats where it is in second place. 

Ashcroft has responded by quipping that the Tories will commission another "comfort poll", a reference to an alleged private poll showing the party two points ahead of Labour when the Tory incumbents are named.

I wrote recently to the British Polling Council asking whether the poll should be published in line with BPC guidelines which state that "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." The BPC replied that since the poll was carried out "by a non-member" (Crosby Textor?), it is not required to be published. For now, the Tories' "comfort polling" remains for their eyes only. 

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.

Photo: Getty Images
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The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.