For the first time since March 2012, just before the omnishambles Budget, the Tories lead in a national poll. The first in a new weekly series by Lord Ashcroft puts them on 34 per cent, two points ahead of Labour, with Ukip on 15 per cent and the Lib Dems on 9 per cent. It is, of course, just one poll, so all the usual caveats apply. But that the Tories have overtaken Labour, after running them close in several surveys, will boost morale among the Conservatives and increase tensions in Labour.
I expect some on the left will attempt to dismiss the poll on the grounds that it was conducted by a Tory peer and former deputy chairman of the party. But given the extent to which Labour has cited Ashcroft's research in recent years, this criticism won't hold water. As Ashcroft himself writes:
"Those who are not familiar with my research may think it is more than a coincidence that a Tory like me should produce the first Conservative lead in a national survey for more than two years. Regular readers, I hope, would point them to my previous polling and commentary, in which I have not shied away from pointing out uncomfortable truths to all parties. Indeed the lamentable practice of “comfort polling” – trying to demonstrate you are doing better than you really are – is one of the things that prompted me to start my own research in the first place."
It's also worth noting that, on a uniform swing, Labour would still win more seats than the Tories, one reason why MPs of all parties are increasingly discussing the possibility that Labour could win the most seats in 2015, while the Tories win the most votes.