Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The value of polls

On the face of it, Labour can be reasonably pleased with their progress so far. Even discounting the oddly out-of-sync YouGov, the polls generally have them at between 36 and 39% - around 10 points up on their dismal election effort last year. Even taking into account the levelling effect of the reduction in and equalising of constituencies, Labour are far better placed to take advantage of the inherent imbalances in our electoral system than the Tories are - whereas the Tories will need a lead of between five and seven points (depending on how opimistic you are) to gain an overall majority, Labour probably only need three or four points clearance.
Economic indicators are generally dire. If everything goes well for the Coalition, 2015 should coincide with a reasonable return to trend growth, but various Damocletian swords look over their heads. The Eurozone can has been kicked about as far down the road as is possible, and a reckoning is coming - the most likely outcome must surely be that in 2015 Labour will be able to ask 'Are you better off than you were five years ago?' and get a mostly negative response. Elections are won and lost on the economy, and the prognosis is bleak.
And yet the smiling faces at the Labour conference tend to fall into two categories - what Dan Hodges called the Flat-Earth tendency, who are delighted to see that their party is finally back in their hands, and Coalitionistas, who see their electoral salvation in the wonky grin of the Leader of the Opposition.
Should we just ignore the headline polling figures then? Probably - at least for the next few years. The figures to watch are the relative leadership ratings of Cameron and Miliband, the lead in trust on the economy and, almost most important of all, the figures showing who the public blames for the spending cuts. That last, at the moment, is especially bad for Labour. 'Red Ed' may be back, but his future is anything but rosy.

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