The Tory press’s favourite “Labour supporter” Dan Hodges wrote this week that the Conservatives had achieved “crossover”, a point where they had a consistent lead over Labour in the polls, from which point they were on course for victory in May.
These Tory leads lasted for three polls with one pollster, never amounted to more than a lead of one point, and were all well within the margin of error of plus or minus three points. A range of other polls still had Labour in the lead by one point or a dead heat, and then in the YouGov poll for the Sunday Times this week Labour led by three points, 35% to 32%, their highest share this year. For those with long memories, that was the national share of the vote in 2005, when Labour won a third term with an overall majority of 66 seats. Overall the broad trend in the polls hasn’t moved since September.
Let’s say though, for arguments sake, that the two main parties are tied on polling day, at 34%. On a uniform national swing that would result in Labour being just 3 seats short of a majority. To achieve an overall majority over Labour, something which has eluded them for almost a quarter of a century, the Tories need to be some 7% ahead. A range of election predictions put the race too close to call, with many saying that both main parties will emerge with around 280-285 seats.
Of course we are no longer in the days of uniform national swing, and there are a number of individual regional and local battles involving the Lib Dems, UKIP and Greens that will to some extent affect the result. The biggest factor will, as we all know, be Scotland, where many of Labour’s 41 seats are at risk from an SNP lead in the polls that currently stands at around 20%. How that plays out on May 7th will be key to the UK wide result.
Keen to make the General Election far more interesting than 2005, and with the Tories doing badly, the media have talked up the Labour collapse to the SNP, the threat to Labour from UKIP particularly in the North and the East Coast, and most recently the “Green surge”.
UKIP may well have peaked. Their highs of polling regularly in the low twenties and upper teens seem to have gone, though they are likely to score well above the tiny percentage they got in 2010 come polling day. They will hold or gain less than five seats, but of course could influence the result in several more constituencies.
The “Green surge”, which has seen them rise from their base of 2% up to at points 10% also seems to have peaked in the glare of media scrutiny over some of their policies, as well as wider publicity around their appalling record in Brighton and Hove. They have dropped back to six per cent and are likely to be competitive in only one or two constituencies at most. There is every chance they may emerge with no seats at all.
Let’s look at some other pointers. Recent polling in London has shown Labour ten points clear of the Tories, and on course to make significant gains in the capital on an 8% swing since 2010. In Wales Labour are marginally ahead of where they were four years ago, and set to make modest gains, leading the Tories by around 16%.
In England overall, Labour were eleven per cent adrift of the Tories in 2010, but are now level-pegging or at best 4% ahead. In 2005 that gave Labour 92 more seats. Even 4% ahead, they would lose 43 seats to Labour. Unless the Tories can make gains from Labour in England, they can’t win, and the UKIP factor makes it even harder for them to add the votes needed.
Despite some 2010 Lib Dem support leeching to the Greens rather than Labour, Labour remain likely to win most of their Lib Dem targets, whilst the Tories will struggle to take many of theirs. Amongst first-time voters Labour have a massive 15% lead, which if turnout can be maximised, would boost chances of an overall majority considerably. Significantly, the NHS now tops the list of voter concerns, an issue on which Labour has a considerable lead.
So, for any Labour supporters gloomy at recent polling, some reasons to be cheerful. Still on course to be the largest party, and if a recovery in Scotland can be achieved, on course for a majority of 25 seats or more.