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7 July 2017

How excited should Labour be about its 8-point poll lead?

It's well in excess of what the party needs to be in minority or even narrow majority territory.

By Stephen Bush

The latest Times/YouGov poll has Labour stretching its lead to eight points over the Conservatives, with 46 per cent to 38 per cent. It means that the month following the election is Labour’s best in the polls since before the invasion of Iraq.

Labour just needs a one-point swing to gain 30 seats from the Conservatives, and with that form a comfortable if not commanding minority government – the Conservatives need just a one point swing from Labour to gain 29 seats and a majority in the Commons.  Labour’s eight-point lead is well in excess of what the party needs to be in minority or even narrow majority territory.

There are numerous reasons for the state of the polls – Grenfell, both in terms of what it symbolised and in Theresa May’s leaden-footed response, the public divisions in the Cabinet, the relative unity of the Labour party – but part of the reason is surely revealed in the latest round of ONS data: household disposable income is falling at its fastest rate since 2011.

The blunt truth is that the fall in the value of sterling since the Brexit vote has made almost everyone in the United Kingdom poorer. As far as the politics goes, there are now ten DUP-shaped holes in the government’s case for spending restraint.

All of which increases the chances that, for as long as the government’s majority holds, and whoever leads it, the gravitational pull on the Conservative side is for the parliament to run long, in the hope that something – an economic recovery, a softer Brexit, a free trade bonanza following a harder Brexit, a new leader, an interim leader, it depends which Conservative MP you talk to – turns up. (Don’t forget that thanks to the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, the government’s capacity to shrug off defeats is that much greater than it was in 1974-79, when the government was, in any case, able to cobble together working arrangements to stay in office even after it lost its tiny majority.)

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Which for optimistic Conservatives will summon up memories of 1992, when they held on through years of recession and Labour poll leads to win unexpectedly, thanks to a new – ish – leader in the shape of John Major. But Labour’s hope is that the parliament they are re-running is not 1987-1992, but 1992-7. 

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