Labour takes 7pc lead in poll as growth fails to impress voters

If Miliband can hold on to this lead, it would give him an 86-seat majority in 2015 general election

Column LAST UPDATED AT 12:09 ON Tue 12 Aug 2014
Don Brind

Labour has taken an eye-catching seven-point lead in this month’s Guardian/ICM poll, a dramatic turnaround from the previous month’s survey which had the Tories one point ahead.

The survey puts Labour on 38 per cent, a rise of five points over the month, while the Tories drop three points to 31 per cent. The Lib Dems are unchanged on 12 per cent, while Ukip sees a one-point increase in its support to ten per cent. 

Two other new polls give Labour more modest four-point leads. Both YouGov and Populus put Labour on 37 per cent to the Tories’ 33 per cent. 

These two results are closer to the current averages across all polling organisations and so could be taken as a better guide to the current scene than ICM’s shock figures.

And, of course, there is inevitable scepticism about August polls because of the holiday effect, with millions of voters – including David Cameron in Portugal and Ed Miliband in France – sunning themselves abroad.

But ICM's polling might be more accurate than we think. Mike Smithson of Politicalbetting.com, an indefatigable quarrier into the polling archives, has come up with historical parallels which look very worrying for Cameron as he contemplates his return home from Cascais. 

First, Smithson rates ICM as the "gold standard" pollster because of its accuracy in getting close to actual election results. More important, ICM's August polls enjoy a particularly high hit rate.

  • The August 1996 ICM poll put Labour ahead by 12 per cent – and under their then new leader Tony Blair they went on to win the May 1997 election by 13 per cent.
  • The August 2000 ICM poll lead for Labour was nine per cent – and they won the June 2001 election by that very margin.
  • The August 2004 ICM poll showed Labour three percentage points – exactly the margin by which they won the May 2005 election.

Smithson’s provocative conclusion is that if the predictive value of ICM August polls holds good next May, “Ed Miliband is home and dry.”

And very comfortably too: if you put ICM's figures into the Electoral Calculus seat predictor, you get a Labour majority of 86 seats.

Miliband is unlikely to take Smithson’s judgment at face value. Indeed, he has ordered every member of the shadow cabinet to make keynote speeches on their policies in the run-up to the conference season in September.

Dubbed 'The Choice', this campaign is intended to highlight differences between Labour and coalition policies and counter the accusation from voters who say: “You’re all the same”.

The Guardian’s commentary on the ICM poll suggests internal Tory divisions may be the cause of the turnaround in the figures: namely, Baroness Warsi's decision to resign over Cameron's 'morally indefensible' stance on Gaza, and the news that Boris Johnson intends to return to Westminster, presumably to make a pitch for Cameron's job when the time is right.

These short-term problems may have an effect on the polling, but the persistent Labour lead in the polls doubtless has more to do with the constant complaint that not enough voters are feeling the benefits of the economic upturn.

While the latest employment figures - due tomorrow - are likely to show a further fall in the overall jobless figure, there is evidence that it could be a very long time before pay rises ever accelerate to the point where employees feel wealthier.

The CIPD, an organisation representing personnel directors, released a survey yesterday pointing up “the large number of employers who are not carrying out pay reviews or are implementing pay freezes”.

As a result, only 42 per cent of employers surveyed expect basic pay to increase at their company in the next 12 months, down from 48 per cent three months ago.

For David Cameron, that translates into a voteless recovery and the real prospect of defeat in May 2015.

If the Tories are defeated, Cameron will have to stand down as party leader. When that happens, the ICM poll shows 29 per cent of voters are backing Boris Johnson to be the next leader, against 14 per cent for Home Secretary Theresa May and only six per cent for Chancellor George Osborne.

And if Boris were to lead the Tories, it would have a major affect on the party's standing, according to the ICM poll. 

As The Guardian reports: "The poll finds that Labour's seven-point lead would fall to three points if he led the Tories. The Tories would see their support increase by three points under a Johnson premiership to 34 per cent while Labour would see its support fall by one point to 37 per cent. Johnson would also hit support for Ukip, which would see its support fall by two points to eight per cent."

However, Anthony Wells of UK Polling Report is dismissive of such polling. “People are rubbish at answering hypothetical questions," he says, "and here we’re expecting them to say how they’d vote with X as leader without knowing what changes X would make, what priorities and policies they’d adopt or anything else about what an X leadership would look like. 

"They can be useful straws in the wind, but really, they are no more than that.” ·