Labour enters the danger zone

Labour enters the danger zone

YouGov President Peter Kellner's latest commentary on how Labour must shift if it is to secure pole position ahead of the next election

With Labour’s lead down to 5% in YouGov’s latest poll for the Sunday Times, the party has entered the danger zone. For the first time this year, our figures point to a hung Parliament, rather than an outright victory for Ed Miliband.

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Until now, our surveys have indicated modest overall majorities when votes are translated into seats. Judged against past oppositions that have gone on to gain power, such as Labour before 1997 and the Conservatives before 2010, Labour’s performance has been below par. Even so, Labour could nurse the hope of fending off a Tory revival (perhaps with some help from the UK Independence Party), and converting its mid-term poll lead into a working majority at Westminster. 

That is no longer enough. Or, rather, a 5% lead looks enough in theory, but it isn’t in practice.

If we apply the vote shifts since 2010 to every constituency (Labour up 8 points, Tories down 4, Lib Dems down 13) - then Labour triumphs with 354 seats and a majority of 58.

But that is misleading. This calculation projects the Lib Dems losing 34 seats, 18 of them to Labour. This is improbable.  Lib Dem MPs tend to have personal support that transcends party labels; this won't save those with tiny majorities, but it will limit the party’s losses.

Moreover, recent elections suggest that new MPs tend to do better than the national average when they first seek re-election. That is good news for the Tories, because virtually all of their MPs that Labour is seeking to depose in 2015 first entered the Commons three years ago. I would expect Labour to win fewer Con-Lab marginals than one might expect from the national swing.

When we allow for these two factors, I reckon that Labour needs a 6-7% lead win the next election outright. Hence the significance of the lead dipping to 5%. A single poll could, of course, be a statistical blip. The figures will bounce around from day to day. However, Labour’s lead has been tending to drift lower in recent weeks. For 12 months until this April, the party routinely enjoyed double-digit leads. Those days are over, at least for the time being. The current lead of 5% may be an outrider, but it does not look like a rogue.

Labour is paying the price for failing to persuade voters that the coalition, rather than Labour, is to blame for Britain’s economic problems. In our latest poll, conducted after last week’s spending cuts, David Cameron and George Osborne hold a ten-point lead over the two Eds, Miliband and Balls, when people are asked whom they trust more to run the economy.

That, above all, is the verdict Labour must shift if it is to secure pole position ahead of the next election.

See the full results for the latest YouGov / Sunday Times survey

This article originally appeared on the Sunday Times

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