Clegg could lose his seat – but might Farage lose his way?

Recent polling is horrible news for the Lib Dem leader - yet most people now want UK to stay in Europe

Column LAST UPDATED AT 15:25 ON Tue 27 May 2014
Don Brind

Anyone seeking pointers to the result of the 2015 general election – just a year away – has been given plenty of material to ponder in the past few days. As well as the local and European election results, some fascinating opinion polls have been released. Here are five headline points to come out of this welter of fact and opinion:

Lib Dems face a wipeout – even in their strongholds

The Lib Dems' coalition pact with the Conservatives has proved so unpopular that if Nick Clegg remains leader he is set to lose his Sheffield Hallam seat to Labour by 33 points to 23, according to private polling commissioned from ICM and leaked to The Guardian. He could even come third behind the Tories.

Clegg is not the only Lib Dem MP at risk: the same polling suggests Julian Huppert in Cambridge, Ian Swales in Redcar and Tess Munt in Wells would all lose their seats by double-digit deficits. In short, the prevailing view that personally popular Lib Dem MPs should be able to resist the nationwide swing away from the party and keep their seats is not supported by this polling.

A switch of leader would make a difference - Vince Cable would improve the Lib Dems' chances by eight points and Danny Alexander by five – but not a big enough difference to win any of these seats.

Who commissioned and leaked the poll is a mystery and Clegg supporters are likely to mount a counter-offensive. A Lib Dem spokesman told The Guardian the poll “bears no relation to the result we saw on Thursday night, where Liberal Democrats secured 38.7 per cent of the vote across Sheffield Hallam. Labour managed 23.6 per cent, whilst the Tories came fifth with just 10.7 per cent."

Mike Smithson of PoliticalBetting.com believes says the leak is part of an “organised and well funded” rebellion against Clegg.

“What struck me are not just the numbers but the fact that serious money is being spent on the effort to try to get Clegg out,” he writes. Constituency surveys are expensive – costing tens of thousands of pounds – and complex to organise. “It is not the sort of thing that could have been commissioned last week.”

Labour look set to win 2015 election – or do they?

Forget for a moment the headlines about knives being out for Ed Miliband following the disappointing showing in the local elections: polling conducted in key marginal seats where the May 2015 general election will be fought shows a 6.5 swing away from the Tories in 26 constituencies. 

If that swing still holds in 12 months' time, and is repeated nationwide, Labour can expect to win the election by a healthy majority of 83 seats.

While the origins of the private polling (see above) showing the Lib Dems in trouble are shrouded in mystery, this polling is carried out by a man who wants the Tories to win – Michael Ashcroft, a one-time vice-chairman of the party who now gets his kicks by owning ConservativeHome.com and paying out of his private fortune for polls.

While the anti-Tory swing is discouraging for Conservatives, there were some positives Tories could from Ashcroft's 'mega-poll' in the marginals. Most voters in the 26 seats were optimistic about the economy – and there's still time to sway opinion because only half the electorate has definitely decided which party they will vote for in May 2015.

"It will be a battle," Ashcroft said at the weekend, "but remember this - if the Conservatives can switch one in six Labour voters, two-thirds of those who say they were willing to consider the party, this picture looks very different."

Ukip could win Newark – but then support could drift away

The momentum generated by the weekend's "political earthquake" could help Ukip's Roger Helmer win the 5 June by-election in Newark – but Ukip's bold intention to target 20 to 30 seats in the 2015 general election could end up an empty promise.

That's because another poll commissioned by Lord Ashcroft – of 4,286 people who voted in the European elections - showed that only 51 per cent of Ukip voters said they would be likely to vote again for the party in the general election. One in five is more likely to vote Tory and one in ten Labour.

The same poll showed that more than half of those who voted Ukip in the European parliament election were disgruntled Tories  who had voted for Cameron in 2010. (Nearly 20 per cent had voted for the Lib Dems in 2010 and 15 per cent for Labour.)

The Conservatives have a year to "reconnect with these supporters", as Ashcroft put it. "This will probably mean a swallowing of pride with a sincere apology for the way gay marriage was introduced and, perhaps, an admission that HS2 is not the right policy, and immigration is not under control."

Interestingly, while in the afterglow of the election results Nigel Farage seems to have forgotten this, the Ukip leader himself said before polling day last week: "I appreciate that many of you who intend to vote Ukip next week also intend to return to the Tory fold at the general election next year."

EU immigration is not the only issue

In Lord Aschcroft's post-European election poll, voters were asked what issues "would matter most" in determining their vote in next year's general election. Needless to say, the economy came top – but nearly as many people mentioned the NHS as immigration.

"It would be a mistake to try to re-fight this election and let last week’s issues dominate the debate for the next year," said Ashcroft. "I have always been a strong advocate of learning the right lessons from an election… But having learned those lessons it is time to move on and concentrate on the test in hand."

Could it be that Europe will turn out not to be the over-riding issue in May 2015? Which brings me to my fifth and final finding…

Ukip are actually losing the argument on Europe

This may be hard to believe – but recent polling by YouGov suggests that most British people would prefer the country to stay in Europe rather than leave.

Ukip's signature policy is the demand for an in-out referendum which they and their soulmates on the Tory right would like to see happen as soon as possible and which, of course, they would expect to result in an easy victory for the Out brigade.

But YouGov's regular polling shows the momentum going the other way. All last year and into this year, the majority answered 'Out' when asked the question: 'If there was a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union, how would you vote?' But since early March, the 'In' vote has been creeping ahead. 

In the latest polling conducted on May 20/21 – on the eve of last Thursday's elections – 42 per cent voted to stay in Europe against 37 per cent wanting out. Five per cent would not vote and 16 per cent didn't know.

This will be some consolation to Nick Clegg whose decision to debate with Nigel Farage on Britain's place in Europe is reckoned to have contributed to the meltdown in his party’s fortunes.  ·