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SHAKESPEARE Stephan headshot

Stephan Shakespeare is a founder and global CEO of YouGov.

Some recent polls are now putting the Conservatives ahead of Labour, some just behind. Superficially it looks as if they’re inconsistent with each other, but in fact they are remarkably aligned: they have Conservatives at 33 per cent, 34 per cent, or 35 per per cent. The difference (but still within margin of error) is on Labour.

YouGov/Sun

Conservative: 35 per cent.

Labour: 36 per cent.

LibDems: 9 per cent.

UKIP: 14 per cent.

ICM/Guardian

Conservative: 33 per cent.

Labour: 31 per cent.

LibDems: 13 per cent.

UKIP: 15 per cent

Ashcroft

Conservative: 34 per cent.

Labour: 32 per cent.

LibDems: 9 per cent.

UKIP: 15 per cent.

Populus

Conservative: 35 per cent.

Labour: 36 per cent.

LibDems: 8 per cent.

UKIP: 13 per cent.

(ICM reapportions ‘Don’t Knows’ according to 2010 vote, and thereby gets surprisingly high numbers for the LibDems – but who knows, that may be a better way of predicting where the LibDems will end up at the actual time of voting. Polls are confused between two different aims: measuring current support and predicting future outcomes.)

For sure, something has happened – the Conservatives are getting some credit for an improving economy, and Labour are probably starting to suffer a little from UKIP: some Labour votes will just be anti-government votes, and in the Euro-elections UKIP are a competitive credible anti-government party. It’s probable that, after the euros, both the main parties will get some votes back from Farage.

None of this means Labour’s strategy isn’t working. They have been running the Left’s equivalent of ‘dog-whistle policies’: attacks on corporations, especially the utilities and banks, as well as landlords, keeps traditional Labour supporters loyal while not being important enough to risk a backlash. It may still be enough to make it awfully hard for David Cameron to run a stable government.

My guess is it won’t quite work. I’ve argued since 2011 that the Conservatives are very unlikely to win an absolute majority, and the same goes for Labour. The most likely outcome (go ahead and play with Anthony Wells’s Swing Calculator, and see if you can make a reliable government given a range of realistic vote-shares) is a minority single-party government or a weak coalition (that is, the two parties concerned added together have a small majority).

What happens then? It’s one thing to have a new constitutional arrangement for five-year terms given the starting point of a strong and determined partnership such as Cameron-Clegg 2010, but another if everyone is tired, unhappy and rebellious in 2015. Let’s say Cameron achieves a weakened government and, around year two, loses a vote of no-confidence. Who leads the Tories into the election? Can they possibly have a leadership election at the start of a 25-day election campaign? Can they possibly fight it with a leader who has twice failed to win a majority?​​

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