Labour lead by four points in the latest Ashcroft National poll, conducted over the past weekend. Ed Miliband’s party is on 32 per cent, down two points on last week, with the Conservatives up three on 28 per cent, the Liberal Democrats up two on 8 per cent and UKIP down two points to 17 per cent.
For the third consecutive week the two largest parties between them command a share of no more than 60 per cent. This is probably a continuing consequence of the Euro election campaign, in which smaller parties tend to achieve greater prominence. This effect is not confined to UKIP; the Green Party’s score of 7 per cent is seven times what they polled at the last general election.
Exactly half of those naming a party said they may change their mind by next May. As ever, those who said they would vote Liberal Democrat were the least certain of their choice; nearly two thirds of them said they may end up voting differently. This seems doubtful – after all, if you are prepared to declare yourself a Lib Dem at this stage of the proceedings it is hard to see what could put you off. As I have noted before, the national polls are not the best guide to the Lib Dems’ fortunes. Their fate will be determined in individual constituencies; my poll of Conservative-Lib Dem battleground seats will shed further light on that later this month.
I asked voters what they saw as the most important issues facing the country as a whole, and facing them and their families. The NHS topped the list when it came to people’s personal priorities: 57 per cent named it in their top three, just pipping the economy and jobs (56 per cent). The positions were reversed on the question of what mattered for the country.
People were also more likely to name schools, crime and the environment as being important to “me and my family” than to “Britain as a whole”. The reverse was true for immigration: 44 per cent put it in their top three issues for the country, compared to 30 per cent for themselves and their family.
Despite the attention inevitably paid to the European question in recent weeks, and the continuing controversy over which unknown foreigner should be appointed to a Brussels job few understand, only just over one in ten voters said the question of “defending Britain’s interests in Europe” was among the most important to them; only 13 per cent said the same for the country as a whole. My poll of those who voted in the Euro elections also found the NHS ranking above Europe when it came to their priorities for the general election.
It is a timely reminder for the Tories in particular that while some people consider European issues hugely important – and the referendum pledge will be critical to gaining their support – most people’s votes will be determined by other things.
Finally, I found David Cameron and George Osborne to be more trusted to manage the economy than Ed Miliband and Ed Balls by a margin of 43 per cent to 25 per cent. The Conservatives were more trusted by a majority of those who currently say they will vote UKIP (56 per cent) and nearly half of swing voters (45 per cent of those who say they don’t know how they will vote or may switch from their current party). Only 61 per cent of Labour voters named Miliband and Balls; nearly a quarter preferred the Tory team.
This provides some reassurance for the Conservatives about the longer term. Or does it? Evidently, trusting the Tories on the economy does not – yet – necessarily translate into a Conservative vote. I have said before that economic management, combined with the choice of Prime Minister, in which Cameron continues to lead comfortably, could play more of a part as the election draws closer and the choice becomes more real. We could also be seeing early signs that as economic confidence returns, other priorities like public services start to reassert themselves. How will the parties respond to this development?