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  1. Politics
  2. Brexit
15 April 2019updated 07 Jun 2021 1:39pm

Given the polls, an election seems too risky for the Conservatives. So how else do they solve the Brexit crisis?

By Stephen Bush

The pollster changes, but the story remains the same: both big parties are down in the polls, but Labour is narrowly ahead. The reason? Large numbers of voters defecting to the various explicitly pro- or anti- Brexit parties – and equally large numbers of people defecting to the runaway lead in every “who would make the best PM?” poll: Don’t Know.

How seriously should we take it? The usual health warnings about opinion polls of course apply, and one reason why the polls are so volatile is that so many people are sloshing back and forth between “Don’t Know” and whichever one of the two big parties they feel least irritated by.

I’d keep an eye on those all-important figures for which party leader makes the best prime minister and which side is best trusted to manage the economy, usually a more reliable indicator than the headline polls. And were I a Tory, I’d draw some comfort from the fact that my side is still ahead on those measures – but that the gap between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn on the preferred prime minister measure is closing would be spooking me.

Of course, the big and important question is where do those lost voters live? If the slippage is even, then there’s really no difference between a Labour opinion poll lead of 32 to 29 per cent than of 42 to 39 per cent.

But let’s say that the Conservative-to-Ukip voters are overwhelmingly in very safe Tory seats, enough to give some MPs in Surrey a dented ego but not enough to change the result, while Labour’s Ukip problem is concentrated in marginal seats. Or that Labour’s difficulties with the artists formerly known as TIG are primarily confined to seats in big cities where they have large majorities, but Conservative-to-TIG defections are mostly concentrated in areas where Labour or the Liberal Democrats are already close behind. Either could be the case and that would have big implications for what this result means.

The significant change, of course, is that it further underlines that calling an election wouldn’t necessarily resolve the Brexit deadlock and if it did it might come with a price tag that the Conservative Party won’t like.

It all boosts the chances that the argument being made by Phillip Lee’s “Right to Vote” campaign to his fellow Tory MPs – that Brexit cannot be resolved without going back to the people in one way or another and that an election is a risk they can’t afford to take – might start to get traction within the party mainstream.

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