David Cameron at the launch of the Conservatives' European election campaign. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Tories lead in national poll for first time in two years

A Lord Ashcroft survey puts the Conservatives two points ahead of Labour on 34 per cent.

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. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

Northern Ireland election results: a shift beneath the status quo

The power of the largest parties has been maintained, while newer parties running on nicher subjects with no connection to Northern Ireland’s traditional religious divide are rapidly rising.

After a long day of counting and tinkering with the region’s complex PR vote transfer sytem, Northern Irish election results are slowly starting to trickle in. Overall, the status quo of the largest parties has been maintained with Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party returning as the largest nationalist and unionist party respectively. However, beyond the immediate scope of the biggest parties, interesting changes are taking place. The two smaller nationalist and unionist parties appear to be losing support, while newer parties running on nicher subjects with no connection to Northern Ireland’s traditional religious divide are rapidly rising.

The most significant win of the night so far has been Gerry Carroll from People Before Profit who topped polls in the Republican heartland of West Belfast. Traditionally a Sinn Fein safe constituency and a former seat of party leader Gerry Adams, Carroll has won hearts at a local level after years of community work and anti-austerity activism. A second People Before Profit candidate Eamon McCann also holds a strong chance of winning a seat in Foyle. The hard-left party’s passionate defence of public services and anti-austerity politics have held sway with working class families in the Republican constituencies which both feature high unemployment levels and which are increasingly finding Republicanism’s focus on the constitutional question limiting in strained economic times.

The Green party is another smaller party which is slowly edging further into the mainstream. As one of the only pro-choice parties at Stormont which advocates for abortion to be legalised on a level with Great Britain’s 1967 Abortion Act, the party has found itself thrust into the spotlight in recent months following the prosecution of a number of women on abortion related offences.

The mixed-religion, cross-community Alliance party has experienced mixed results. Although it looks set to increase its result overall, one of the best known faces of the party, party leader David Ford, faces the real possibility of losing his seat in South Antrim following a poor performance as Justice Minister. Naomi Long, who sensationally beat First Minister Peter Robinson to take his East Belfast seat at the 2011 Westminster election before losing it again to a pan-unionist candidate, has been elected as Stormont MLA for the same constituency. Following her competent performance as MP and efforts to reach out to both Protestant and Catholic voters, she has been seen by many as a rising star in the party and could now represent a more appealing leader to Ford.

As these smaller parties slowly gain a foothold in Northern Ireland’s long-established and stagnant political landscape, it appears to be the smaller two nationalist and unionist parties which are losing out to them. The moderate nationalist party the SDLP risks losing previously safe seats such as well-known former minister Alex Attwood’s West Belfast seat. The party’s traditional, conservative values such as upholding the abortion ban and failing to embrace the campaign for same-sex marriage has alienated younger voters who instead may be drawn to Alliance, the Greens or People Before Profit. Local commentators have speculate that the party may fail to get enough support to qualify for a minister at the executive table.

The UUP are in a similar position on the unionist side of the spectrum. While popular with older voters, they lack the charismatic force of the DUP and progressive policies of the newer parties. Over the course of the last parliament, the party has aired the possibility of forming an official opposition rather than propping up the mandatory power-sharing coalition set out by the peace process. A few months ago, legislation will finally past to allow such an opposition to form. The UUP would not commit to saying whether they are planning on being the first party to take up that position. However, lacklustre election results may increase the appeal. As the SDLP suffers similar circumstances, they might well also see themselves attracted to the role and form a Stormont’s first official opposition together as a way of regaining relevance and esteem in a system where smaller parties are increasingly jostling for space.