The poll in the Independent today, which has the Tories on 37 per cent (no change), Labour on 30 per cent (down 2 points), the Liberal Democrats on 20 per cent (up 1 point), makes for fascinating reading. On the face of it, the Tory lead is up again. But as Andrew Hawkins, chairman of ComRes, explains, there are important qualifications to this:
Some 50 per cent of people think it would be unthinkable to elect Gordon Brown as prime minister for the next five years, while 44 per cent disagree. But 51 per cent say they personally feel no enthusiasm for the Conservative Party, with 42 per cent disagreeing with this statement.
Meanwhile, 38 per cent of people believe the country would be better off with a hung parliament and coalition government, while 53 per cent disagree.
By a margin of 46 to 41 per cent, people do not agree with Mr Cameron’s statement that the lobbying scandal which engulfed Labour last week is worse than the sleaze scandals that affected John Major’s Tory government in the 1990s.
And, as Andy Grice reports, the people’s views can be summed up as “a plague on both your houses”. Andy adds:
The result is a blow to the Tories, who are also unlikely to have been boosted by the performance of George Osborne during Channel 4’s chancellors’ debate last night. Both Alistair Darling and Vince Cable questioned how he could afford to reverse Labour’s proposed rise in National Insurance contributions. But the shadow chancellor said that the government had identified £11bn of waste which could be cut. He told Mr Darling: “Instead of tackling that waste now and stopping wasting people’s money, you want to increase the taxes on pretty much every single person here in this room and people watching at home.”
Mr Cable said: “George, last week you went round denouncing these government supposed efficiency savings as complete fiction — which, frankly, a lot of them are.
“You are now using these fictional savings to finance your tax cut. That is utterly incredible.”
If the figures from the ComRes poll were repeated at an election, it would result in a hung parliament in which David Cameron would be 31 seats short of an overall majority. The Tories would have 295 MPs, Labour 266, the Liberal Democrats 57 and other parties 14.
In other words, it is indeed all to play for.
Later today, Tony Blair will enter the election debate. Watch this space for analysis of his speech.