The latest polling of marginal seats by Lord Ashcroft is good news for Ukip, may give Labour some cheer, but is a bit of a gloomy picture for the Tories.
Surveying the “battleground” seats – 14 Conservative-held seats with Labour in second place – the polling is noteworthy for Ukip now being first place in two (Thurrock and Thanet South), and for the nine-point fall in the Tory vote share since 2010.
Ukip’s rising popularity means has resulted in it now leading in two seats: Thurrock and Thanet South. It has also jumped ahead of Labour to second place, behind the Conservatives, in Great Yarmouth.
The Tory peer and respected pollster points out that this means Ukip’s overall vote share nationally won’t necessarily indicate how they’ll do in the general election: “their vote in these [battleground] seats ranges from 9 per cent in Hendon to 31 per cent in Great Yarmouth, 33 per cent in Thanet South and 36 per cent in Thurrock”. This suggests, if Ukip can hold on to such figures for ten more months, that Farage and his troops could do some significant damage on the ground, in spite of the national picture of their prospects.
And speaking of Farage, this polling could also tell us where the Ukip leader will stand as an MP. Thanet South is a likely seat for Farage to contest, and he has been tipped for it for a while. Its current MP, Laura Sandys, is one of a significant number of 2010-intake Tories to be standing down in 2015 after just one term, a decision that sparked speculation about where Farage will stand. Of course, he’s contested the seat before, in 2005, where he came fourth. Will the polling’s suggestion that he’d come top embolden him to try the same patch again?
And aside from Ukip euphoria, Labour could also be reading these polling results with a grin. As Ashcroft points out, although the opposition’s score remains unchanged at 38 per cent, the Tories’ nine-point fall in the vote share in these particular seats “points to a 4.5 per cent swing to Labour”.
If the election directly reflects this polling, Labour could win 53 Conservative seats. This combined with gains from the Lib Dems, as Ashcroft pointed towards in another set of recent polling, could put Labour on-track for “a small overall majority”. But rather than having the effect of Labour sitting comfortably and awaiting a replication of this polling in the election results, this is more likely to put the fear into the Conservative campaign machine, which some say has been optimistic about a Tory majority outcome.