David Cameron and Ed Miliband look on during the service to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II at Westminster Abbey on June 4, 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Labour two points behind in Tory-held marginals

A new poll shows the party trails in 25 must-win Conservative seats. 

Westminster may obsess over national polls, but they are an indequate guide to the outcome of the next election. To know where the parties really stand, we need numbers from the marginals - the seats which decide who enters Downing Street. 

Lord Ashcroft will helpfully be publishing another of his super-polls at this Saturday's ConservativeHome conference but in advance of that, ComRes has carried out a new survey for the Independent of the 40 most marginal Conservative-Labour battlegrounds. The bad news for Ed Miliband is that his party is two points behind (35-33) in the 25 where the Tories are incumbent, suggesting that it is performing worse in these constituencies than nationally (a reversal of previous findings). If Labour is to become the largest single party, let alone achieve a majority, these are must-win seats. In the 15 where Labour is incumbent, the party is eight points ahead (39-31), but given the need to improve, rather than merely maintain its position, this is no consolation. 

Of note is that across all 40 seats, both the Tories and Labour have lost votes since the last general election. Labour is down two points to 35 per cent and the Tories are down four to 33 per cent. Ukip is up a remarkable 14 to 17 per cent and the Lib Dems are down 10 to eight per cent. It is a finding that appears to confirm Labour fears that the Farageists are now eating into their vote share as well as the Tories'. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Jeremy Corbyn's Labour conference speech shows how he's grown

The leader's confident address will have impressed even his fiercest foes. 

It is not just Jeremy Corbyn’s mandate that has been improved by his re-election. The Labour leader’s conference speech was, by some distance, the best he has delivered. He spoke with far greater confidence, clarity and energy than previously. From its self-deprecating opening onwards ("Virgin Trains assure me there are 800 empty seats") we saw a leader improved in almost every respect. 

Even Corbyn’s firecest foes will have found less to take issue with than they may have anticipated. He avoided picking a fight on Trident (unlike last year), delivered his most forceful condemnation of anti-Semitism (“an evil”) and, with the exception of the Iraq war, avoided attacks on New Labour’s record. The video which preceded his arrival, and highlighted achievements from the Blair-Brown years, was another olive branch. But deselection, which Corbyn again refused to denounce, will remain a running sore (MPs alleged that Hillsborough campaigner Sheila Coleman, who introduced Corbyn, is seeking to deselect Louise Ellman and backed the rival TUSC last May).

Corbyn is frequently charged with lacking policies. But his lengthy address contained several new ones: the removal of the cap on council borrowing (allowing an extra 60,000 houses to be built), a ban on arms sales to abusive regimes and an arts pupil premium in every primary school.

On policy, Corbyn frequently resembles Ed Miliband in his more radical moments, unrestrained by Ed Balls and other shadow cabinet members. He promised £500bn of infrastructure investment (spread over a decade with £150bn from the private sector), “a real living wage”, the renationalisation of the railways, rent controls and a ban on zero-hours contracts.

Labour’s greatest divisions are not over policy but rules, strategy and culture. Corbyn’s opponents will charge him with doing far too little to appeal to the unconverted - Conservative voters most of all. But he spoke with greater conviction than before of preparing for a general election (acknowledging that Labour faced an arithmetical “mountain”) and successfully delivered the attack lines he has often shunned.

“Even Theresa May gets it, that people want change,” he said. “That’s why she stood on the steps of Downing Street and talked about the inequalities and burning injustices in today’s Britain. She promised a country: ‘that works not for a privileged few but for every one of us’. But even if she manages to talk the talk, she can’t walk the walk. This isn’t a new government, it’s David Cameron’s government repackaged with progressive slogans but with a new harsh right-wing edge, taking the country backwards and dithering before the historic challenges of Brexit.”

After a second landslide victory, Corbyn is, for now, unassailable. Many MPs, having voted no confidence in him, will never serve on the frontbench. But an increasing number, recognising Corbyn’s immovability, speak once again of seeking to “make it work”. For all the ructions of this summer, Corbyn’s speech will have helped to persuade them that they can.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.