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The Conservatives hold onto their one-point lead over Labour in this week’s Ashcroft National Poll, conducted over the past weekend. Vote shares for the four biggest parties remain unchanged since last week, with the Tories on 30 per cent, Labour on 29 per cent, UKIP on 16 per cent and the Liberal Democrats holding on to their 10 per cent, a result which party president Tim Farron joked was causing champagne corks to pop at Lib Dem HQ last week. The Greens are up one point at 7 per cent and the SNP down one at 4 per cent.

Voters’ estimation of Labour has fallen across the board since I last asked about the parties’ attributes in June. The biggest change was the proportion saying Labour were “a united party”, down eight points to 27 per cent. This is perhaps not surprising given recent headlines about Ed Miliband’s leadership, but the Conservatives are only just ahead on this measure, with 30 per cent saying the Tories are united – a fall of 4 points since the summer. UKIP were ahead on this score, though with only one prominent figure it would be hard to contrive not to be.

There was little change in perceptions of the Tories, but the Labour decline resulted in bigger Conservative leads or smaller Labour leads in all areas. The Conservatives were also ahead on having “clear ideas to deal with Britain’s problems” by 40 per cent to 32 per cent, being “competent and capable” (by 40 per cent to 31 per cent), and “willing to take tough decisions for the long term” (by 49 per cent to 35 per cent).

Labour remained well ahead on standing for “fairness” (by 47 per cent to 34 per cent), having their “heart in the right place” (by 48 per cent to 37 per cent), being “on the side of people like me” (by 40 per cent to 32 per cent). But their leads were down to four points on being “honest and principled” (35 per cent to 31 per cent) and three points on being a party that “share my values” (37 per cent to 34 per cent).

A majority of all voters (56 per cent) thought UKIP “says things that need to be said that other parties are scared to say”, but less than half this number considered the party “reasonable and sensible” (26 per cent) – a measure on which the Tories had the edge, at 44 per cent.

The final question this week found that 23 per cent of voters would be happy to see the Conservatives in government after the next election and happy to see David Cameron staying as PM, while 16 per cent said they would be happy to see a Labour government and happy to see Ed Miliband take over in Downing Street. However, this question is not designed to measure the overall preference of government, as I regularly do in my battleground research, but to explore the role of the leaders’ in people’s decisions.

Overall, voters were more likely (and swing voters twice as likely) to say they would rather have Cameron as PM even if it means the Tories staying in government than vice versa. In other words, Cameron was more likely to be seen as the upside of a Tory government (or a Tory government the downside of a Cameron premiership) than the other way round.

The reverse was true for Labour. People were twice as likely (and Labour voters three times as likely) to say they would rather have Labour in government even if it means Miliband becoming PM than they were to say the opposite. Only 7 per cent said they “would rather have Ed Miliband as PM than David Cameron, even if it means having Labour in government.

As I have observed before when looking at leadership questions, though many will vote Conservative because of Cameron, it is also true that many will vote Labour despite Miliband. It would probably be going too far to say that Miliband threatens to cost his party the election, since on current polling he would still be Prime Minister – but it remains the case that one party’s leader is an asset, and the other’s a drag.

>Visit LordAshcroftPolls.com for full details of Lord Ashcroft’s research and to sign up for news alerts.

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