Labour’s poll lead is slipping again. Here’s why

by Atul Hatwal

In a momentous week for news, one development has understandably slipped by without major comment: the shift in the polls since the Autumn Statement.

The Sunday Times YouGov poll had Labour’s lead at 5 points, today’s Sun YouGov poll similarly has the lead at 5 points and today’s ICM poll in the Guardian also registers a lead of 5. In comparison, the average YouGov lead in the week before the Autumn Statement was 8 while the November’s ICM poll also had Labour 8 points up.

A drop of 3 points in Labour’s lead, across 3 different polls suggests something has changed since the Autumn Statement.

Although caution is advisable given it is just a week’s polling, this shift has been expected by many and if confirmed in the coming weeks, will presage significant problems for the party.

In the two months since Ed Miliband’s conference speech, politics has been defined by Labour’s energy price freeze commitment.

Regardless of the economics, it has been politically successful in driving debate within the Westminster bubble. Countless column inches and interview minutes have been expended on the fall-out from the announcement. So much so that politics became polarised around support or opposition to the price freeze.

And this is part of the problem.

Labour’s year long slide in the polls appeared to have been arrested in October and November, but the profile of the price freeze has been such that the polls in these months virtually became referendums on whether action should be taken to reduce energy prices rather than predictions of voting at the next election.

The shift in the polls over the past week suggests the impact of the energy price freeze is now diminishing.

There is a precedent for this type of development.

In September 2000, for one month, politics was turned upside down. William Hague’s Conservative opposition reversed months of double digit ICM poll deficits to leap into a 4 point lead. The cause was the fuel crisis.

For that month, as the country teetered on the edge of running out of petrol, the fuel crisis became the defining political issue. Polls reflected the public’s view of the government’s handling of the crisis. People telling pollsters that they would vote Conservative was more an expression of anger at government impotence in the face of rising fuel costs, than a realistic view of voting intention.

I recall talking to Conservative staffers at the time who spoke hopefully of a resetting of the political equilibrium; that the anger with the government and rise in Tory support would last long after the immediate crisis had passed.

I’ve been reminded of those conversations in the past couple of months talking to Labour staffers and politicians: a similar hope, driven by a public outpouring of frustration with the government, albeit this time over energy not petrol.

But by October 2000, the Conservatives were trailing Labour and by December 2000, the deficit was once again in double digits. Normal service had resumed, just as normal service looks like it is about to resume following the energy price freeze announcement.

The fundamentals of politics do not change. Voters generally make their electoral choice on the basis of who they feel is best suited to be prime minister and which party they feel is the most economically competent.

No opposition has ever won an election while being behind on both economic competence and leadership. In today’s ICM poll, David Cameron and George Osborne are favoured on the economy over Ed Miliband and Ed Balls by 39% to 23%, a lead of 16%. In last week’s YouGov poll which asked about prime ministerial preference, David Cameron led Ed Miliband by 34% to 23% – a 9% gap.

In both Autumn 2013 and September 2000, the fundamental doubts harboured by the public on the opposition’s economic competence and the leader’s suitability to be prime minister, were not addressed. As with the fuel crisis in 2000, this year’s energy price freeze has given the opposition a political sugar-rush that transformed the polls but not the underlying drivers of voting intention.

Now the rush is passing, Labour must refocus its efforts and return to tackling the core problems that existed before the price freeze temporarily upended politics. Unless headway can be made on the economy and leadership, history suggests Her Majesty’s Opposition in 2013 faces a similar fate to its predecessor in 2000.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut

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19 Responses to “Labour’s poll lead is slipping again. Here’s why”

  1. Danny says:

    A few months back when Labour’s polling was looking a little sketchy, Atul Hatwal, Rob Marchant et al were all over it with their doom-mongering analyses and negative appraisals of Ed Miliband.

    In previous weeks when polling has been reasonably healthy and positive from a Labour perspective, Atul Hatwal and Rob Marchant were a little less forthcoming with their frequent extrapolations and polling comment.

    Now some polling data has been released that shows a bit of a slip in Labour’s popularity and what happens? To my utter astonishment, a polling analysis by Atul Hatwal condemning Labour to another term of opposition and dismissing Labour’s “bounce” in recent weeks as an irrelevance caused by the popularity of a single policy.

    You truly do not cease to amaze. I genuinely think that people like Peter Hitchens and Richard Littlejohn have more balance and journalistic integrity than you do. Never have I seen someone manipulate data, highlight certain data whilst ignoring other points that are intrinsically linked and type outright fiction to peddle such a worthless agenda.

    The Labour leader is not Tony Blair or one of his acolytes. Get over it. If you could see past your New Labour bias, you would realise that this is an inherently good thing.

    In future, when Labour have another bounce in the opinion polls, post an article at the time explaining your reasons why it is an aberration rather than a true pointer for the General Election. If you only bleat about opinion polls when they align with your own agenda, you just look a little bit silly and devoid of credibility.

    No mention of the latest Populus polling either. Curious.

  2. bob says:

    The sight of Balls ranting but saying nothing in his Autumn Statement reply will have have put a lot of people off voting Labour or voting at all. His reply was vacuous in the extreme, long on rhetoric, short on facts. Before anyone complains he did not have time to prepare, this has happened to all shadow chancellors since time immemorial, he just read a prepared statement as a prisoner of Unite.

  3. paul barker says:

    Presuming that the business of The Special Conference is settled amicably then your analysis suggests that the slow fall in Labours lead should continue, dissapearing completely next autumn. The question is what happens then, my guess is that Labour will return to form with everyone blaming everyone else & Milliband. What larks.

  4. John Reid says:

    Danny , are you implying littlejohn and Hitchen support, Cameron’s Tories, news to me,

  5. swatantra says:

    Its a reality check, after a heady few months.

  6. Anne says:

    I read an very good article today (We don’t give MPs a chance to shine by Steve Richards – found in the i newspaper) which is perhaps related to this subject. Steve was advocating that MPs should take the suggested pay increase but he was also putting some very good points forward as to why some people do not trust politicians and they are all the same, but, and I think this is a very good point – when asked what they would prefer as an alternative to elected politicians Steve says there is never a coherent response.

    Steve makes another good point – ‘There are some great, exciting,dynamic, articulate MPs but far too many are medicocre. Several party leaders, past and present, have stated that they struggle to find the talent from the parliamentary pool to fill their front benches.’

    I am sure it is a complexing job being an MP – deciding on national policy and then acting like a social worker in their constituencies.

    Steve suggests that we should be spending more time debating what we want from MPs and less moaning about the cost of democratic politics.

    My feeling is that unless we address this issue and decide what we what from our politicans, unfortunately I believe, we will get more of the same.

    I recently attended a Fabian Society meeting where I made the suggestion that perhaps politicans should have some quolitications for the job in hand – I always find it very strange that the chancellor of the exchequer has no quolifications in economics – even stranger was the labour councellor who eventually became ceo of a leading bank with no experience of banking. Would this happen in other professions? I don’t somehow think so.

    A member of the panel replied to my question by saying they wanted their MP from a working class background. This is just as strange as choosing their prospective MP by gender.

    We should really be choosing our MPs surely from ability – it is, I am sure, a very difficult job being an MP – understanding about some very difficult subjects, as well as pleasing their demanding constituents. I affraid until these two questions are adequately answered 1. what do we want from our MPs and 2 How do we choose our MPs, is correctly answered we will be getting more of the same – turning more people away from voting for any party.

  7. Danny says:

    @ John Reid.

    No I’m not implying that at all, I’m not quite sure how you managed to come to that conclusion.

    What I’m implying is that Peter Hitchens and Richard Littlejohn are shockingly unbalanced journalists with very little credibility outside a very small school of pretty backward-looking individuals. I personally feel that on that front, a comparison with people like Atul Hatwal and Rob Marchant is very apt.

    And before you read any other implications that aren’t there, I am not suggesting that Atul et al are ideologically aligned to morons like Hitchens and Littlejohn. Even I wouldn’t be that nasty to them.

  8. Fred smith says:

    John read Danny’s posts on unitelist and you’ll see how big a cretin he is.

  9. Kate says:

    This blog is consistently one of the stupidest reads on the internet, Jesus Christ.

  10. Harry says:

    If I read the serious posts here and ignore the back biting that goes on, there are indeed some very insightful points raised.

    Atul does not seek to criticise, he is merely stating some very valid information that links voting intentions to credibility. Any student of human behaviour from whatever field will tell you that a purchase decision (thats what voters are expressing on polling day) is based on credibility of the purchase or selection being made. History tells us that leadership and economic competence are important factors – thank you Atul.

    Anne is also being very helpful in alerting us to the discussions made by Steve Richards. We do need to debate what we want from our politicians and how this is best served. Personally, I do not want an MP simple because of his/her background, I want someone who has an understanding of the breadth of issues and does not keep promising to pander to the needs of every minority interest that exists – however laudable the cause. I want someone who recognises the majority view, and in doing that will deliver the best outcome for society as a whole.

    We have limited resources – how do we allocate what resources (money, people, knowledge etc) we do have in a way that serves the interests of society as a whole and provide for as many causes as we can reasonably assist.

  11. john reid says:

    Hitchens as a former Trot, who spent years fighting Enoch Powell, and Apartied, and was A Euroscpetic,when the Daily mail was pro europe, Lttlejohn,as A friend of Trevor Philips wanted him for London mAyor and is pro gay marriage, they maybe inacurate in their articese, but you could say that about the whole of the Gaurdian,

    the comparision wiht Atul that he’s inaccrate,is based on you feeling that labours smnall lead, doesn’t mean that lead will decrease,but I can’t think of any oppostion that wasn’t 25% ahead midway a parliament, that didn’t go on to win the next election

  12. Danny says:

    I’ve put your post into Babelfish John Reid but still can’t make any sense of it.

    Fred Smith, just so we’re clear, is a big cretin more stupid than a little cretin? And how big does a cretin have to be before he’s considered big? 6 foot? And which of my comments on “unitelist” (brilliant! Eddie Izzard watch out, we’ve a king of stand up in the making here!) did you read and infer that I was a big cretin and not a little one?

  13. uglyfatbloke says:

    Atul does raise some very valid points, but polling data is not as useful as all that for predicting election results. The electoral landscape is n’t as uniform in principle across the country as it used to be. There’s been some discussion of the threat of Plaid, but the situation in Scotland is much more precarious. In the past the gnat vote for Westminster was always much less than for Holyrood. It would seem that that is no longer the case so the gnats – who are 6 years in office and still have a healthy lead – may well get 40% or more of the Scottish vote, in which case – like Labour in the past – they could pick up 80% (or more) of the seats. That would involve a lot of Labour seats in addition to the bunch that the gnats will take from the Scottish glib-dumbs. It would n’t prevent Ed from winning, but it would make it much harder to get an outright majority.

  14. Anne says:

    Thanks Harry – that is exactly what I want from an MP and you know what I think that is what the vast majority of the voting electorate want.

  15. Harry says:

    Anne – what I find most interesting is that as you mention, the majority probably want this, and I suspect that the majority would want it irrespective of traditional party politics. I don’t see a future for UKIP, despite their current standing, and our other options are all clambering for what they see as the middle ground, but in reality are completely missing the very majority who occupy that space!

  16. David says:

    Harry / Anne

    Isnt what you want from an MP is the backbone to stand against the crowd too? It’s not as simple as following the populist / majority line but its knowing when to oppose that line, eg capital punishment, exit EU etc.

    Problem is too many of our MPs are too one dimensional, come from similar working backgrounds (pure politics since 21) or trade union organisers with limited perspective on how the world outside SW1 operates

  17. Anne says:

    David – no that was not what I was saying at all. Why would I want someone to stand against the crowd? Actually I think it is in our best interest to stay in the EU – perhaps with some reform.

    Nor did I say that most MPs were one dimensional or have limited perspective – these are your words and certainly not my meaning at all.

    Please don’t attribute these views to what you think I was wanting.

  18. BenM says:

    Late to this but worth noting that the Tory lead in 2000 was a blip in a long line of Labour poll leads, whereas the fuel price spike follows a long line of, er, Labour poll leads.

    The key issue in polling up to 2015 is where is the disaffected 2010 Lib Dem vote going to go, and evidence is that more of it is going to Labour than any of the other Parties combined.

    If this stays constant, the Tories are out of office.

  19. John Reid says:

    Ben!, for once I agree with you,every opposition that won an election was 25% midway, in Jan 63′ 1968′ 1971, 1976′ and 1995′ Cameron didn’t quite make the 25% led, and Kinnock was 26% ahead in the summer of 1990′ which scared the Tories into getting rid of Thatcher,but due to the boundaries, the low turnout, Ukip, and the Libdem vote, Labour could win by default,next time, the irony is, it could be like Wilson winning by default in 1974′ that government proved so out of touch with the public, that it put labour out of power for 18 years

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