One of the most fascinating things about Lord Ashcroft’s latest poll is not its content, but who in the Conservative party will be reading it. Naturally, those trying to hold onto or win in the marginal seats that the peer has polled will be very interested (but not cheered) by the findings. But besides those with a personal stake in individual seats, there will be two groups of MPs: those who comb through the full datasets that Ashcroft produces, and those who do not. These are, respectively, the pragmatists and the optimists in the party, and they naturally have quite different views of what will happen next May.
The optimists compare the two parties’ momentum, and judge that the Conservatives have the upper hand, with a good drip-drip of statistics that suggest their policies are working, and a better hearing in the press. They may feel that Labour’s summer tour, branded ‘The Choice’, is struggling to cut through, although it would be foolish for anyone to think that this has much to do with Labour’s campaign machine or the Tories’ ability to counter-attack: the simple truth is that with such a febrile international scene, few are paying attention, and rightly so.
But the pragmatists, who are numbers types hailing from the City and have less enthusiasm for feelings, will be reading the latest poll, and feeling even less like optimists than they did before the day got going. Here’s why:
- In the eight seats from 13-20 on Labour’s target list, there is a 6.5 per cent swing from the Tories to Labour. This shows, as Ashcroft says, that Labour is marching deeper into Tory territory.
- In four Labour seats that the Tories are targeting where Ashcroft previously found the smallest leads – Birmingham Edgbaston, Bolton West, Hampstead and Kilburn and Southampton Itchen – there was an overall swing to Labour of 5.5 per cent.
- In Tory seats, 36 per cent said they wanted a Labour government after the next election, with 27 per cent saying they’d like a Tory government.
There are a few more positive kernels hanging about: 30 per cent of voters in Labour seats were satisfied with David Cameron’s performance as Prime Minister (compared to 29 per cent in the Conservative seats), but another 27 per cent preferred Cameron as Prime Minister over Ed Miliband, even though they were dissatisfied with Cameron’s performance. And 33 per cent said they’d rather have Ed Miliband. This is why the Tories want to make this election campaign presidential – because their greatest asset is Ed Miliband’s lack of appeal.
But those pragmatist Tory MPs will turn from the Ashcroft poll to the betting markets. And the bookies have responded to the Ashcroft poll: Ladbrokes have tightened their odds of Labour winning the most seats from 4/5 to 8/11.