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23 February 2010

Why the Tory poll lead is crumbling

New poll shows that bullying allegations have not hurt Labour.

By George Eaton

New Statesman - Polls Guide_1266914420643

Latest poll (Sun/YouGov): Conservatives 31 seats short of a majority.

There’s more bad news for David Cameron in two polls this morning. A new Guardian/ICM poll puts the Tories on 37 per cent, down 2 points since the last ICM poll and only 7 points ahead of Labour.

And the latest YouGov daily poll (erroneously reported to show a 12-point lead for the Tories) puts the Conservative lead at 6 points, unchanged since last weekend’s Sunday Times poll. Even if we don’t assume a uniform swing, both put us back in hung parliament territory.

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Significantly, the fieldwork for the YouGov poll was carried out between Sunday afternoon and Monday afternoon — after Andrew Rawnsley’s allegations about Gordon Brown’s “bullying” were published. This suggests that the affair, as my colleagues Mehdi and James predicted, has (so far) done almost no damage to Labour. A below-headline question found that only 24 per cent of voters view Brown as a “bully”.

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New Statesman poll of polls

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Conservatives 14 seats short of a majority.

It’s worth pausing for a minute to remember the fuss that last November’s Observer/MORI poll caused when it showed the Tories’ lead had fallen to 6 points. Back then, it was the only poll out of ten published that month not to award Cameron a double-digit lead.

Now, two of the most recent five polls have put the Tory lead at 6 per cent; the rest (with the notable exception of Angus Reid) similarly give Cameron a single-figure lead over Labour.

How to explain the decline in Conservative support? First, it reflects greater media scrutiny of the Tories. The press, regardless of its right-wing bias, wants to see a contest.

Second, the fragile nature of the economic recovery appears to be working in Gordon Brown’s favour. It strengthens his argument that immediate spending cuts would damage the economy and upsets the message the Tories have been pushing for the past year.

Finally, Cameron, hitherto a remarkably assured leader, has committed an unusual number of gaffes and errors: the airbrushed poster, the confusion about his marriage tax policy, the interminable row over Lord Ashcroft, the foolhardy attack on Labour’s “death tax”. All of these have damaged his party’s standing with the press and the public.

Cameron is holding an extended, two-hour meeting with his shadow cabinet today. If the Tories are to stand any chance of winning a working majority, they had better come up with some answers.

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