By Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC.

The Labour lead is down to five points in this week’s Ashcroft National Poll, conducted between Friday and Sunday. Labour are down two points to 33 per cent, with the Conservatives down one to 28 per cent, the Liberal Democrats up one to nine per cent and UKIP up two on 17 per cent. Other parties account for 14 per cent, including the Greens up one point on seven per cent.

Just over half of all voters said they would definitely vote for their chosen party next May, with 47 per cent saying they may yet change their mind. Labour supporters (63 per cent) and Conservatives (59 per cent) were the most likely to be certain how they will vote. Those who said they would vote UKIP were evenly divided as to whether they were certain to stay with the party (51 per cent said they would definitely vote that way, 49 per cent that they may end up voting differently), and 63 per cent of Lib Dems said they may switch.

I asked people whether they thought each of the four main parties had certain attributes. The Conservatives were most likely to be thought to possess three: being “willing to take tough decisions for the long term” (with 50 per cent saying this was true of the party), being “competent and capable” (42 per cent) and having “clear ideas to deal with Britain’s problems” (41 per cent). The Tories’ lowest scores included “standing for fairness” (32 per cent) and being “on the side of people like me” (31 per cent).

Labour led in six areas: having its “heart in the right place” (52 per cent), standing for fairness (50 per cent), being “reasonable and sensible” (46 per cent, just two points ahead of the Tories), “shares my values” (41 per cent), being “on the side of people like me” (41 per cent) and being “honest and principled” (only 38 per cent, but ahead of the other parties on this measure).

While the Tories lagged behind on some of these character attributes, Labour’s lowest scores included having clear ideas to deal with Britain’s problems (34 per cent) and being competent and capable (37 per cent). With just months until an election, which of these two combinations of qualities would Ed Miliband choose for his party? To put it another way, when it comes to choosing a government, will voters value empathy over ability?

Despite everything, the Liberal Democrats scored highly on having their heart in the right place (43 per cent) and standing for fairness (42 per cent) – something that voters have continued to associate with the party even if they are not convinced Nick Clegg has been able to put his principles into effect in government. Only around one fifth of voters thought the Lib Dems were united, competent or had clear ideas.

Perhaps not surprisingly, UKIP’s most recognised attribute was that it “says things that need to be said that other parties are scared to say” (57 per cent). Despite this, only 27 per cent thought the party was “reasonable and sensible” (the lowest score for any party on this measure) and just 29 per cent thought UKIP shared their values. People seem more likely to acknowledge UKIP for saying the unsayable on certain issues than to think the party is speaking for them more generally – indeed the proportion saying UKIP were “on the side of people like me” (33 per cent) was little higher than for the Conservatives (31 per cent). Even so, it will be the Tories who should be more exercised by the fact that only just over three voters in ten think the party is fighting their corner.

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