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This is the moment when Labour's poll rating gets a lot, lot worse

 At no time in the modern era has Labour in opposition gone up in the polls from this point.

History matters in elections. In this year’s US Presidential contest, political science models based on past relationships – involving, for instance, incumbent popularity or economic growth – did better than short-term modelling based on opinion polls. Most such models predicted a very close race, which could go either way, and in some notable instances predicted a Donald Trump victory. Local election results from the 2010-15 Parliament were the clue that allowed forecaster Matt Singh to predict that opinion polls were failing to pick up the true levels of party support running up to the UK’s 2015 general election. 

So if we want to look ahead to the next general election, and for all opinion polling’s recent problems, it is probably still useful to look at where we are now in UK polling. It should be quite a simple job to look at present levels of support for Labour in opposition, and the Conservatives in government, and to project what will happen next based on past experience.

Let’s start with the deficit between Labour’s numbers and those of the Conservatives. Right now, if we take each pollster in the field’s last results at an average, Labour is a long, long way behind – 13 per cent or so. They have never before been so far behind while in opposition at this stage of a Parliament, about 19 months following the previous general election. The closest comparison is the eight points by which Neil Kinnock’s Labour lagged the triumphant Thatcherite Conservative party in December 1988. Oppositions have more often actually led the government in the polls at this point. Even in 1980, with Labour deeply divided, Michael Foot was, in his very early days as leader, able to enjoy an 11-point lead over a very unpopular government struggling with high inflation and unemployment. 

When we look at what might happen between now and the next election, an even worse picture emerges. At no time in the modern era, if we take that as meaning the period since 1970, has Labour in opposition gone up in the polls from this point. Between 1993 and 1997, a youthful and popular Tony Blair managed to keep the party's ratings high all the way through to an election - the polling score fell only by 0.4 per cent. But that is the exception. In fact, at this point in Parliament, Labour while in opposition has on average lost 7.2 per cent. After Foot's early boost, Labour split and its polling score plummeted by 19.6 per cent. For today's leaders, this would imply a slump from today's polling of 29 per cent support to 21.8 per cent at the next election. 

If those numbers sound apocalyptic, here's a more positive spin. At each general election, Labour has been historically overestimated by polls – by perhaps 1.5 per cent, or a little more. If pollsters’ new post-2015 methods have eliminated this polling error (a generous assumption), then 1.5 per cent or even more of the expected polling "fall" from this point to the next election has already been eliminated. So, if you scrub out that 1.5 per cent fall from my earlier projection, Labour might actually hope to receive 23.3 per cent, or even slightly more. Let’s avoid the perils of false specificity on as generous a basis as we can muster, and round this number up to 24 per cent.

What, though, of the Conservative government’s likely score? Well, at the moment its support hovers around 42 per cent. The honeymoon effect of a new Prime Minister is probably still affecting this rating, although we should also bear in mind that the Conservatives still probably have a lot of scope to soak up Ukip voters if that party does implode. In any case, the evidence since 1970 is that the Conservatives’ vote share at the next general election might be a little higher polling suggests at the moment – by an average of 1.8 per cent or so. Let’s again not be too precise, and call the gain 2 per cent. That would see Theresa May’s party attracting 44 per cent at the polls

The last stage of this analysis is to look at how these very rough figures might translate to numbers in the House of Commons. A result which saw Labour gain 24 per cent, and the Conservatives 44 per cent, would mean on old boundaries a Conservative overall majority of around 150, with 400 seats, while Labour had just about 160 seats. On the new boundaries likely to come into force late in 2018, these shares of the popular vote would again give the Conservatives an absolute majority of perhaps 150, and a total of 375 seats of in a smaller 600-seat Commons, with only something like 150 Labour MPs returned. That would be the party’s worse showing since 1931.

If Labour do indeed receive a score towards the lower end of the 20s, and the Conservatives something over 40 per cent, the next general election will see Labour very badly, indeed historically, savaged. It is possible that the party will suffer a ringing, enduring defeat that will be hard to recover from. It should be stressed that this is a very crude way of looking at these numbers. Labour will probably do better in urban seats, and particularly in London, than this raw data suggests. And in these surprising political times, during which so little seems solid, Labour might somehow be able to escape such a fate. But right now, the historical signs are very, very ominous indeed.
 

Glen O’Hara is Professor of Modern and Contemporary History at Oxford Brookes University. He is the author of a series of books about modern Britain, including The Paradoxes of Progress: Governing Post-War Britain, 1951-1973 (2011). He is currently working on A History of Water in Modern Britain (forthcoming, 2016). He blogs, in a personal capacity, at Public Policy and the Past

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Rising crime and fewer police show the most damaging impacts of austerity

We need to protect those who protect us.

Today’s revelation that police-recorded crime has risen by 10 per cent across England and Wales shows one of the most damaging impacts of austerity. Behind the cold figures are countless stories of personal misery; 723 homicides, 466,018 crimes with violence resulting in injury, and 205,869 domestic burglaries to take just a few examples.

It is crucial that politicians of all parties seek to address this rising level of violence and offer solutions to halt the increase in violent crime. I challenge any Tory to defend the idea that their constituents are best served by a continued squeeze on police budgets, when the number of officers is already at the lowest level for more than 30 years.

This week saw the launch Chris Bryant's Protect The Protectors Private Member’s Bill, which aims to secure greater protections for emergency service workers. It carries on where my attempts in the last parliament left off, and could not come at a more important time. Cuts to the number of police officers on our streets have not only left our communities less safe, but officers themselves are now more vulnerable as well.

As an MP I work closely with the local neighbourhood policing teams in my constituency of Halifax. There is some outstanding work going on to address the underlying causes of crime, to tackle antisocial behaviour, and to build trust and engagement across communities. I am always amazed that neighbourhood police officers seem to know the name of every kid in their patch. However cuts to West Yorkshire Police, which have totalled more than £160m since 2010, have meant that the number of neighbourhood officers in my district has been cut by half in the last year, as the budget squeeze continues and more resources are drawn into counter-terrorism and other specialisms .

Overall, West Yorkshire Police have seen a loss of around 1,200 officers. West Yorkshire Police Federation chairman Nick Smart is clear about the result: "To say it’s had no effect on frontline policing is just a nonsense.” Yet for years the Conservatives have argued just this, with the Prime Minister recently telling MPs that crime was at a record low, and ministers frequently arguing that the changing nature of crime means that the number of officers is a poor measure of police effectiveness. These figures today completely debunk that myth.

Constituents are also increasingly coming to me with concerns that crimes are not investigated once they are reported. Where the police simply do not have the resources to follow-up and attend or investigate crimes, communities lose faith and the criminals grow in confidence.

A frequently overlooked part of this discussion is that the demands on police have increased hugely, often in some unexpected ways. A clear example of this is that cuts in our mental health services have resulted in police officers having to deal with mental health issues in the custody suite. While on shift with the police last year, I saw how an average night included a series of people detained under the Mental Health Act. Due to a lack of specialist beds, vulnerable patients were held in a police cell, or even in the back of a police car, for their own safety. We should all be concerned that the police are becoming a catch-all for the state’s failures.

While the politically charged campaign to restore police numbers is ongoing, Protect The Protectors is seeking to build cross-party support for measures that would offer greater protections to officers immediately. In February, the Police Federation of England and Wales released the results of its latest welfare survey data which suggest that there were more than two million unarmed physical assaults on officers over a 12-month period, and a further 302,842 assaults using a deadly weapon.

This is partly due to an increase in single crewing, which sees officers sent out on their own into often hostile circumstances. Morale in the police has suffered hugely in recent years and almost every front-line officer will be able to recall a time when they were recently assaulted.

If we want to tackle this undeniable rise in violent crime, then a large part of the solution is protecting those who protect us; strengthening the law to keep them from harm where possible, restoring morale by removing the pay cap, and most importantly, increasing their numbers.

Holly Lynch is the MP for Halifax. The Protect the Protectors bill will get its second reading on the Friday 20th October. 

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