Yesterday there was excitement in the Labour leadership’s office as our latest poll showed them gaining eight points after the launch of their manifesto, cutting the Conservative lead to (only) 15 percentage points. However, as with all polls, the devil is in the detail. The Conservative vote share is unchanged at 49 per cent. Tony Blair only needed 44 per cent of the vote for a landslide in 1997. It is notable that four in ten Labour supporters say they might still change their minds — and of Labour supporters who might change their minds, about a third (38 per cent) say they might vote for the Conservatives. Their vote is softer than in 2015.
Yet a further Labour spurt would electrify this election and change it from the rather one-sided contest it has been so far. It is certainly now a battle between the two big parties for most of the votes, a pattern completely different from what we have just seen in the French elections, where the two left and right-wing traditional parties were knocked out in the first round, leaving insurgents to fight it out.
Here Mrs May has shot the UKIP fox, with its 2015 showing of over 12 per cent of the vote now down as low as 2 per cent in this poll, and of course in many constituencies UKIP will not even field a candidate. The Lib Dem fightback seems to have fizzled out, with the party dropping back to its 2015 levels or below, losing votes to Labour and the Conservatives. As our focus groups have shown, most Remain voters have no appetite for a repeat referendum and now want the best Brexit deal they can get.
So should supporters of Jeremy Corbyn crack open the champagne and celebrate having that much-desired election attribute, momentum? Well I would wait a week or so. The Conservatives still get some of the biggest scores we’ve ever seen on ratings such as being the party with the best policies (best since 1990), having the best team of leaders (best since 1989), and being clear and united (best since 1991). Labour is just ahead as the party trusted to get the right balance on how much the rich and poor should pay in tax (by 38 per cent to 33 per cent).
But when we did this poll, the Conservative manifesto had not yet had its moment in the sun, and of course the ugly final part of the campaign where the Conservatives go personal on Jeremy Corbyn’s past has yet to happen.
As it is six in ten voters disagree that Mr Corbyn is ready to be PM (including one in four Labour voters). This is similar to Ed Miliband’s ratings in 2015. More people also disagree that Labour is ready for government than in the run-up to the 2015 election (60 per cent now, 52 per cent in 2015).
Most of the electorate will only start paying full attention at the start of June, and while Labour is up, the Conservatives remain at an altitude that Labour looks to find very difficult to reach — although stranger things have happened.
- Ben Page wrote this article for The Times Red Box