The new political assumptions
My column for The Independent on Sunday today concludes by observing that it is in the interests of Liberal Democrat MPs to install Vince Cable as their leader before the election, and that Nick Clegg’s “I’m Sorry” video has made this more likely by inviting people to identify the tuition fees betrayal with him.
But my article starts by drawing attention to the changed assumptions about the election. Since 6 August, when Clegg announced that his MPs would vote against the new constituency boundaries, the difficulty of Cameron’s winning a majority in 2015, or even of the Conservatives remaining the largest party, has percolated through the system.
I quote Peter Kellner’s analysis, which assumes that the Lib Dem share of the vote falls from 24 per cent to about 15 per cent at the next election: the Conservatives need to be seven points ahead of Labour for a majority, whereas Labour need only a one-point lead.
(To be the largest party in a hung parliament, the Tories need to be four points ahead in share of the vote. The new boundaries would have made the contest seem more equal, with the Tories needing to be four points ahead for a majority and Labour three, but that prospect has now gone.)
I did not have space in the article for the implications for Labour. Plainly, if the next election is to be fought on the existing boundaries, its chances of winning are better. Yet there seems to be a reluctance to accept that it is likely that Ed Miliband will become prime minister.
Much attention has been devoted to opinion polls showing how poorly he is regarded by voters in comparison with David Cameron. In particular, there was a Populus poll in The Times on Monday that found that, by a margin of 60 per cent to 31 per cent, voters preferred Cameron to Miliband as prime minister – even if, as in the case of most of the 60 per cent, they are dissatisfied with Cameron. And it found that 33 per cent of Labour voters said that they preferred Cameron to Miliband.
Thus it is often said that Labour’s lead in the opinion polls, an average now of 10 points despite today’s four-point lead in the ComRes poll for The Independent on Sunday, is “soft” or that it will vanish as voters face up to the awful possibility of Prime Minister Miliband.
I do not agree. I have written about the “Miliband effect” in opinion polls recently. It is small. If pollsters ask people how they would vote, then remind them who the party leaders are and ask them again, the average effect is a swing from Labour to Conservative of 1.5 points.* (Thus the average Labour lead might actually be seven points rather than 10 after an election campaign focusing on the personalities of the leaders.)
That apart, I think people tell pollsters how they intend to vote. They might think Cameron is better than Miliband, but they would prefer a Labour government led by Miliband to a Conservative one led by Cameron.
Labour is in a strong position. If the economy bounces back more strongly than expected, things might change, but that is where we start from, half-way through this Parliament.
*The latest evidence on this is YouGov in today’s Sunday Times, showing a 1-point swing Miliband effect.
Image of Ed Miliband No 10 badge: eBayTagged in: constituency boundaries, opinion polls, psephology
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter