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Here's why the Conservatives are banging on and on about the SNP

A new poll confirms what the Conservatives been saying privately, and bodes ill for Labour after the election.

A while back, I reported on private Conservative polling that showed that the fear of an SNP-Labour pact was putting the frighteners up swing voters in the marginals. The strategy also figures into the Liberal campaign message, such as it is.

Now ComRes have helpfully polled publicly what the Tories and the Liberal Democrats have been testing privately. A new poll for ITV on possible coalition partners finds that just 19 per cent of voters want the SNP to play a role in the next Westminster government, with 59 per cent opposed.

Happily for Labour, opposition to the SNP in government is significantly lower in London and Wales, where the party is hoping it will outperform the national swing, picking up seats like Ilford North, the Vale of Glamorgan, Battersea and Aberconwy to bolster its hopes of being the largest party, but it is still high, at 48% in Wales and 49% in London. But what will trouble Labour MPs and strategists is the level of opposition to any SNP presence in government in the East of England, the Midlands and the North West, in the areas where the election will be decided.

That said, while this poll confirms that the Tory campaign is based on more than wishful thinking – and Labour candidates in the marginals also report that voters are concerned about a Labour-SNP pact in the Commons – I’m still dubious about its utility as a campaign tactic. One Labour insider points out that many of the concerns about Ed Miliband palling up with Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond “are actually about Ed’s ratings and his ability to take tough decisions”. If Miliband is able to continue the positive air war he has enjoyed so far then the matter simply won’t arise. And if voters’ first preference is to have a Labour government free of SNP influence, their best bet in the Labour-Tory battles in England and Wales is still a vote for Labour, rather than the Conservatives.

But what should really trouble Labour isn’t if the Tory attack does damage in the campaign’s last 16 days, but what will happen to Labour’s vote in the Midlands and the North if the party, as now looks more likely than not, ends up in office thanks to the support of the Scottish Nationalists.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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