Lord Ashcroft at the Conservative conference in 2012. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Lord Ashcroft marginals poll shows Labour would win "comfortable majority"

Survey of 26,000 voters suggests Tories would lose 83 MPs with swing of 6.5 per cent to Labour.

After yesterday's mixed local election results, which suggested that Labour would merely become the single largest party if they were replicated nationally (not a good position for an opposition to be in a year before a general election), Lord Ashcroft's super poll of marginal seats has raised spirits in the party. The survey of 26,000 voters in 26 Conservative-Labour battlegrounds found a swing of 6.5 per cent to Labour - "enough to topple 83 Tory MPs and give Ed Miliband a comfortable majority".

It's important to remember that this is a snapshot, not a prediction. In October 2009, a similar poll suggested the Tories would win a majority of 70. Just seven months later, they didn't win one at all. But thanks to the defection of Lib Dem voters to Labour and the defection of Tory voters to Ukip, Ed Miliband is in a strong position to become prime minister. The swing achieved by Labour in the marginals (6.5 per cent) is greater than the national average (5.5 per cent), supporting Labour's boast that it is "winning voters where it matters" (as it did in 2010 when it won a 1992 share of seats on a 1983 share of the vote).

Less happily for the party, the poll also found that just three in ten voters would rather see Miliband as prime minister than Cameron, and that nearly seven in ten trust Cameron and Osborne most to run the economy. History suggests that a significant number of this group will return to the Conservative fold once faced with the task of electing a national government, rather than expressing a fleeting opinion. But as I've argued before, the rise of Ukip and the collapse of the Lib Dems means the past may be a less useful guide to the next general election than any other.

Based on Ashcroft's findings, the Tories should abandon any lingering hope they have of winning a majority and recognise the struggle they will face merely to remain the largest party.

Here's how Douglas Alexander, Labour's general election strategy chair, has responded: "Lord Ashcroft's poll confirms that we are making real progress in seats where we need to do well and that Labour can win next year's General Election. In the year ahead we will continue to show how we can make a difference to people's lives and engage directly with voters conversation by conversation, doorstep by doorstep.”

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Michael Gove definitely didn't betray anyone, says Michael Gove

What's a disagreement among friends?

Michael Gove is certainly not a traitor and he thinks Theresa May is absolutely the best leader of the Conservative party.

That's according to the cast out Brexiteer, who told the BBC's World At One life on the back benches has given him the opportunity to reflect on his mistakes. 

He described Boris Johnson, his one-time Leave ally before he decided to run against him for leader, as "phenomenally talented". 

Asked whether he had betrayed Johnson with his surprise leadership bid, Gove protested: "I wouldn't say I stabbed him in the back."

Instead, "while I intially thought Boris was the right person to be Prime Minister", he later came to the conclusion "he wasn't the right person to be Prime Minister at that point".

As for campaigning against the then-PM David Cameron, he declared: "I absolutely reject the idea of betrayal." Instead, it was a "disagreement" among friends: "Disagreement among friends is always painful."

Gove, who up to July had been a government minister since 2010, also found time to praise the person in charge of hiring government ministers, Theresa May. 

He said: "With the benefit of hindsight and the opportunity to spend some time on the backbenches reflecting on some of the mistakes I've made and some of the judgements I've made, I actually think that Theresa is the right leader at the right time. 

"I think that someone who took the position she did during the referendum is very well placed both to unite the party and lead these negotiations effectively."

Gove, who told The Times he was shocked when Cameron resigned after the Brexit vote, had backed Johnson for leader.

However, at the last minute he announced his candidacy, and caused an infuriated Johnson to pull his own campaign. Gove received just 14 per cent of the vote in the final contest, compared to 60.5 per cent for May. 


Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.