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Are the Tories now ahead in the polls?

Recent polls suggest the party may have finally moved in front.

This post originally appeared on May2015.com, our election site.

Three pollsters – YouGov, ComRes and Survation – have now put the Tories ahead by one percentage point. This morning YouGov put them ahead by 1 for the second time (they poll five times a week). Is the party finally leading the polls, as many pundits have long expected and some forecasters have predicted?

We are really in a tie, rather than a Tory lead. But that tie has gone from a Labour-leaning one to the beginnings of a Tory-leaning one.

Ever since October, when Labour’s 3-4 point summer lead started to evaporate, the party has still led marginally in the polls. May2015’s Poll of Polls has shown the occasional tie – or even a fractional Tory lead – but Labour were usually ahead by 1-2 points throughout November, December and the first half of January.

The Tories have now crept ahead of Labour, and done so because a series of pollsters have put them ahead (unlike two weeks ago, when an anomalous Lord Aschroft poll gave them a very short-lived lead).

Populus, the second most prolific pollster after YouGov, are still showing Labour ahead. They put them up by one on Monday, but they had them ahead by 3-5 points earlier this month and often put them ahead by two throughout late 2014. Their next poll, on Friday, is worth watching.

We are really in a tie. Individual polls are accurate to within 3 percentage points, which doesn’t mean our Poll of Polls is inaccurate by up to 3 percentage points, but does mean leads of less than 1 point are effectively ties.

This chart of YouGov’s eighteen polls over the past three weeks gives you an idea of how the two parties are regularly exchanging leads.

But the lead Labour have long-held throughout this parliament is clearly gone.

Harry Lambert was the editor of May2015, the New Statesman's election website.

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The trouble with a second Brexit referendum

A new vote risks coming too soon for Remainers. But there is an alternative. 

In any given week, a senior political figure will call for a second Brexit referendum (the most recent being David Miliband). It's not hard to see why. EU withdrawal risks proving an act of political and economic self-harm and Leave's victory was narrow (52-48). Had Remain won by a similar margin, the Brexiteers would have immediately demanded a re-run. 

But the obstacles to another vote are significant. Though only 52 per cent backed Brexit, a far larger number (c. 65 per cent) believe the result should be respected. No major party currently supports a second referendum and time is short.

Even if Remainers succeed in securing a vote, it risks being lost. As Theresa May learned to her cost, electorates have a habit of punishing those who force them to polls. "It would simply be too risky," a senior Labour MP told me, citing one definition of insanity: doing the same thing and expecting a different result. Were a second referendum lost, any hope of blocking Brexit, or even softening it, would be ended. 

The vote, as some Remainers note, would also come at the wrong moment. By 2018/19, the UK will, at best, have finalised its divorce terms. A new trade agreement with the EU will take far longer to conclude. Thus, the Brexiteers would be free to paint a false picture of the UK's future relationship. "It would be another half-baked, ill-informed campaign," a Labour MP told me. 

For this reason, as I write in my column this week, an increasing number of Remainers are attracted to an alternative strategy. After a lengthy transition, they argue, voters should be offered a choice between a new EU trade deal and re-entry under Article 49 of the Lisbon Treaty. By the mid-2020s, Remainers calculate, the risks of Brexit will be clearer and the original referendum will be a distant memory. The proviso, they add, is that the EU would have to allow the UK re-entry on its existing membership terms (rather than ending its opt-outs from the euro and the border-free Schengen Area). 

Rather than publicly proposing this plan, MPs are wisely keeping their counsel. As they know, those who hope to overturn the Brexit result must first be seen to respect it. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.