Labour has lost its lead on the Conservatives over public services, poll shows

Exclusive: poll shows Conservatives outperform Labour on education and infrastructure, while Labour’s lead on the NHS has shrunk to two points.

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The Labour Party has lost its traditional advantage over the Conservatives on public services, a new poll has shown.  

The polling by GQR, which aims to go beyond headline voting intentions to explore the impact of the four main parties’ messaging, suggests that recent Conservative strategy has eroded Labour’s traditionally strong lead among voters on issues like the NHS and education.  

In what GQR vice president Peter McLeod describes as “a bad poll for Labour”, the party is now five points behind the Conservatives on education and four points behind on infrastructure, while their lead over the Conservatives on the NHS has shrunk to 2 per cent.  

The Conservatives poll better than Labour on defence and crime (both traditional strong suits for the Tories), but are also trusted to do a better job on handling Brexit and on the environment. The only area on which Labour maintains a strong lead is on tackling poverty, where they are ahead of the Conservatives by 10 per cent.

A possible boon for opposition parties, however, is that Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal appears to be highly vulnerable to negative messaging from rival parties. The poll found that robust initial support for the deal (44 per cent support, 27 per cent oppose) quickly evaporated after voters heard the four largest parties’ arguments around the deal: support fell to 39 per cent and opposition rose sharply to 41 per cent. Leaving with a deal remains the most popular outcome among voters, three points ahead of revoking Article 50.  

Unfortunately for Labour, a second referendum is the least popular option among voters, three points below support for no deal. 52 per cent of Remainers want to cancel Brexit altogether, while just 20 per cent want another referendum.

The polling also suggests that Remain voters are unlikely to vote tactically in the next general election. While a majority of Leave voters indicate that their vote will be determined by their view on Brexit, Remain voters say they are more likely to vote for a party that shares their views on things like healthcare, education, jobs and security. 

As for expectations that this will be a “Brexit election”, overall figures suggest the election will be more about domestic issues: by 44 per cent to 37 per cent, voters say they will “vote for the party that shares my views on things like healthcare, education, jobs and security”, rather than “vote for the party that shares my views on Brexit.”

Despite indications that the Brexit deal will be vulnerable to campaign messaging, GQR has drawn the overall conclusion that, unlike in 2017, an election campaign is unlikely to make a huge difference to current voting intentions. “After we showed voters the main parties’ key messages on the new Brexit deal and on domestic issues, there was no significant shift in voting intention,” Peter McLeod from GQR explains.  

On overall voting intention, the poll gives the Conservatives a 10-point lead, with the Conservatives on 34 per cent, Labour on 24 per cent, the Liberal Democrats on 17 per cent, the Brexit Party on 11 per cent, and the Green Party on 3 per cent. This is in line with the current rolling average of recent polls (Con 35, Lab 25, LD 18, Brex 12, Green 4).

GQR’s poll on the political scene in Britain was conducted online from 18-20 October, with 1200 respondents. The results are weighted to be nationally representative of the adult population of Great Britain, by gender, age, region, social grade, ethnicity and education level. GQR weights vote recall to the outcomes of the 2017 General Election and 2016 EU membership referendum.

The full details of the GQR poll can be read here.

Ailbhe Rea is political correspondent at the New Statesman