The simple truth from this Sunday Times/ YouGov poll is that Labour are up two points and the Tories are down two points. The headline spin from The Sunday Times, however, is that the Tories are back to the same kind of opinion poll lead that they had at the very start of David Cameron’s leadership. But – as ConservativeHome has consistently argued – there isn’t much point in taking headline polls too seriously until after the party conference season. Part one of our ongoing video interview series with three leading pollsters gave majority support for this view. Stephan Shakespeare of YouGov said the polls will be a more reliable guide to the next election by late autumn; Ipsos-MORI’s Ben Page advised a wait until next January or February for a true picture; only Communicate Research’s Andrew Hawkins thought the headline polls could – more or less – be taken as very trustworthy now.
What will be a little more concerning for the party are YouGov’s findings that Cameron comes off poorly in head-to-head comparisons with Gordon Brown. The Chancellor leads on “sticking to his principles” (49%-19%); being "strong" (44%-11%); being "decisive" (38%-12%) and "honesty" (23%-18%). David Cameron’s one advantage is on charisma where the Tory leader has a whopping 30% to 4% advantage. These findings are similar to recent research from Populus and ICM.
This research comes on the eve of a major speech by the Tory leader which The Sunday Telegraph is billing as a strategic "u-turn" in which the party’s leadership will be ‘repositioned’. Unidentified "sources" (not even top sources, senior sources or sources close to the leader!) apparently told The Sunday Telegraph’s Patrick Hennessy that a "Save Dave" operation is underway to restore support amongst the grassroots and to counter a "close to panic" atmosphere inside CCHQ. Hennessy notes that William Hague and David Davis – addressing a meeting of activists in Yorkshire yesterday – rejected the ‘heir to Blair’ label by refuting the idea that the party is copying Labour policies. Have they told George Osborne!?
Editor’s comment: "There should be no over-reaction to this one poll from activists or the leadership. My guess is that the front page story in today’s Sunday Telegraph is over the top. The last month has been difficult for the Conservative leader but there are many reasons for optimism. Those reasons were obvious in last month’s local elections when (1) we made decent progress in councils that overlapped target seats – including in the north west; (2) Labour was completely ousted from large sections of the country – particularly in the south east; and (3) Conservatives made solid net gains from the LibDems. [The one number particularly worthy of note in the YouGov poll was the 14% rating for Ming]. I also believe that there are a few changes in the pipeline that will address some of the weaknesses in Project Cameron:
- The imminent arrival of Andy Coulson as Head of Communications – Coulson has the instincts to help the party connect with the three groups where Project Cameron is weakest; traditional Tories, northern voters and lower income strivers.
- The policy review process should help to address the perception that Cameron is all spin. Recent announcements on parliamentary reform, City Mayors and skills are all encouraging early signs from Oliver Letwin’s policy review process. ConservativeHome hopes that the review process will help to ensure that messages likely to appeal to the three target groups identified above are presented more prominently alongside the greener, gentler aspects of Cameronism.
- The increasingly assertive role that Hague, Davis and Fox – darlings of the grassroots – are taking in explaining the Project to the party and traditional supporters outside of it (eg Fox here and Hague here).
- Yesterday’s initiative – as trailed in The Telegraph – which will see the party make an attempt to become Britain’s first seriously online party. I’ll be writing in more detail about that initiative tomorrow."
3.45pm update: UK Polling Report on today’s poll