By Paul Goodman
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The Sun tweeted the latest YouGov poll findings yesterday evening. They show the Conservatives ahead of Labour for the first time this month: the party is on 40%, Labour on 38% and the Liberal Democrats on 10%. Ed Miliband's unhappy New Year – so far – is doubtless part of the explanation. Since the Tories need roughly an eleven-point lead to win an outright majority, there is no prospect whatsoever of David Cameron a snap election (even were there no Fixed Term Parliament Act to stop him). Some look forward to this disadvantage being severely dented by the boundary review that accompanies the present reduction of Commons seats, which is due to be voted on by MPs in the autumn of next year.
Which is why Anthony Wells's other post yesterday for YouGov is essential reading. Wells points out that with the publication of the Boundary Commission for Wales's proposals – summarised on this site by Joseph Willits – we now have recommendations from all four commissions. Wells reports that the Conservatives would need a 0.1% swing to gain an overall majority, and Labour a 5.8% one – but that Miliband requires only a 2.5% swing to force a hung Parliament. According to Wells, the eleven point lead required for a Tory majority will narrow to 7.4%. In other words, even under the new boundaries Labour will still have an electoral advantage over the Conservatives of over one and a half points.
This is because "only part of the disparity is caused by unequal boundaries, with unrelated factors like lower turnout in Labour seats and tactical voting against the Conservatives also contributing". This tactical voting may not continue. Turnout patterns could suddenly change. And a crucial battleground for a blue majority will of course be Conservative versus Liberal Democrat contests (which is why the vaunted electoral pact was always unlikely to happen.) But all in all, Wells's post is a timely reminder that the seat reduction won't deliver David Cameron a level electoral playing field, assuming that Parliament approves it.
Tim recently launched the Do Not Underestimate Labour Association, and Well's analysis will do nothing to reduce applications to join. Miliband may be careless with facts about railway ticket prices and tweets about TV game shows, patronised by his former guru and condemned to endless relaunches, but the polls suggest that to baffle voters may not be incompatible with achieving a 2.5 per cent swing. (John Rentoul reminds us that Labour's current poll average puts them ahead by 2 points.) The effect of the boundary reviews, if they stay much as they are and are voted through by MPs, will be to give the party a fighting chance of an overall majority in 2015. They reduce Labour's advantage. But they don't remove it. Beware of complacency.