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27 September 2011

Poll shows Tories edging ahead, highlighting challenge for Miliband

The one-point lead is not significant in itself, but shows that Labour must work to be seen as a via

By Samira Shackle

As Ed Miliband gears up for his speech to the conference this afternoon, there is some bad news in the polls.

A ComRes/Independent poll, out this morning, gives the Tories a lead over Labour for the first time since October 2010. The headline figures are the Conservatives on 37 points (down one), Labour on 36 (down two), the Liberal Democrats at 12 (up one), and other parties with 15 per cent (up two).

While many feel that Labour should be further ahead in the polls as the coalition’s spending cuts begin to bite, it is important not to overstate the importance of this result. As UK Polling Report‘s Anthony Wells puts it: “sure, it could be the start of a trend, but it could also just be normal sample error.” This one-point lead is more symbolically damaging than anything else.

Perhaps more worrying is that the poll reinforces what other recent surveys have shown — that many voters are struggling to see Miliband as prime minister. In this poll, 24 per cent said they thought he was credible, while 57 per cent disagreed. A Populus/Times poll earlier in the month showed similar results.

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This shows the challenge Miliband faces in connecting with the public. He will attempt to tackle this negative perception in his speech to conference today, in which he will declare war on vested interests and clearly position himself on the side of the ordinary working person. “The true wealth creators are not just an elite, but every man and woman who goes out to work,” he will say.

It’s worth remembering that the numbers are not all bad: Ipsos MORI gives Miliband the highest net approval rating of the three leaders. At -7, his rating is almost exactly the same as David Cameron’s was at this point in his leadership of the Conservatives.

However, there is clearly a long way to go for Labour and Miliband to be seen as a viable alternative by a majority of the public. Today’s conference speech will be an important first step; if the message resonates, it must then be taken to the public.