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8 April 2010

Ignore the polls — for now

Election is turning into a game of musical chairs.

By James Macintyre

A few days into Election 2010 and the House of Commons appears virtually empty, apart from journalists. MPs are well and truly on the campaign trail now, so how is the contest going down in the country?

After an apprently strong and united start from Labour, the media consensus now is that the Tories have benefited from their opposition to the National Insurance rise, dubbed the “jobs tax”. Polls in the past day or two have reflected that.

And yet, today we have had polls showing that Gordon Brown is preferred in many of the marginal seats, and that David Cameron is not reckoned to have enough experience. Then, just in, latest figures from the You-Gov/Sun poll showing the Tory lead down 3 points to 37, Labour static on 32 and the Lib Dems up 2 on 19. Fieldwork for the poll took place between 6 and 7 April, at the height of the NI row, and does not make comfortable reading for the Tories who — look at the figures — should be much further ahead.

So, what does all this say? Arguably not very much at all. Everyone sensible now accepts that this is to be a close election, and the constant analysis of polling at this stage is like playing musical chairs — each time a poll comes out, everyone stops and decides that “Labour is finished” or “there will be a hung parliament”.

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In recent elections, Labour has had its lead cut during the campaign. If that trend repeats itself, then the governing party is in serious trouble. But the important difference here is that the incumbent is the underdog, with nothing to lose and everything to gain.

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The campaign has only just begun (to most of the country it must feel as if it has barely begun). The debates are still to come. But above all, the verdict of the people is still a long way off.

The smart money is on the polls narrowing again. And either way, it would be unwise to judge this election before it’s even started.