Labour’s poll surge has reached a new height. The latest YouGov poll puts the party on 45 per cent, 13 points ahead of the Tories and the largest lead Labour has enjoyed since the phantom election of 2007. Were a general election held tomorrow (under the existing constituency boundaries), Labour would win a majority of 126 seats on a uniform swing.
Poll leads, of course, can come and go. In February 1981, Michael Foot led Margaret Thatcher by 16 points. Yet aided by the “Falklands bounce”, the Tories went on to win a majority of 144 seats in 1983. But it is worth restating some of the reasons why it’s Labour, not the Conservatives, that has the best chance of winning a majority at the next election. For a start, while the coalition’s planned boundary changes will reduce Labour’s advantage, they will not eliminate it. Even after the changes are implemented, the Tories will need a lead of seven points on a uniform swing to win a majority (compared to one of 11 points at present), while Labour will need a lead of just four.
The reason Labour retains its electoral advantage is that the electoral bias towards the party owes more to differential turnout (fewer people tend to vote in Labour constituencies) and regional factors (the Tory vote is poorly distributed) than it does to unequal constituencies (the coalition plans to fix constituency sizes at around 76,000 voters).
Another factor in Ed Miliband’s favour is Labour’s status as the least toxic party. While just 58 per cent of the electorate would consider voting for the Tories, 70 per cent would be prepared to back Labour. Or, to put it another way, just 30 per cent would “never” choose Labour compared with 36 per cent for the Lib Dems and 42 per cent for the Tories. Thus, it is Labour that has the greatest potential to expand its support.
Finally, the decision of the Lib Dems to enter coalition with the Tories has gifted Labour the permanent support of around one-in-five of the party’s 2010 voters. As a result, unlike in the 1980s, when the left was divided between Labour and the SDP, the left is now largely united around Miliband’s party. Increasingly, it looks like another hung parliament is the best outcome the Tories can realistically hope for.