Ed Miliband gets big poll boost: how can Tories respond?
Pledge to freeze energy prices gives Labour a bounce: now it's the Conservatives' turn to woo voters
ED MILIBAND got the Brighton bounce he wanted. The latest YouGov tracking poll for the Sunday Times puts Labour on 42 per cent, a lead of 11 over the Tories – up five per cent from the week before.
And Ed's personal gets a boost, too: 30 per cent now think that he is doing a good job up compared with 22 per cent before the conference speech in which he promised a 20-month freeze on gas and electricity bills if Labour wins the 2013 general election.
The pledge may have alarmed the energy companies and infuriated the right-wing press, but it went down well with voters: YouGov found 63 per cent supporting the energy price freeze and only 26 per cent against.
All of which puts Labour's poll ratings back into territory the party was occupying in the spring and from which it has slipped over the "summer of silence" when talkative ex-ministers, including John Prescott, voiced frustration at Miliband's lack of policies and clear direction.
A member of Team Miliband said after his speech: "We kept our nerve. Now we are asking tough questions of the Tories."
The increasing confidence of Labour supporters that their man is heading for Downing Street is tempered by the knowledge that the shape of the new political landscape won't become clear until next weekend when a raft of polls are produced at the end of the conference season.
The Conservatives get the chance to deliver their own conference bounce this week, with Chancellor George Osborne laying out his tough new line on welfare claimants today and David Cameron giving his keynote speech on Wednesday morning, when he'll talk more about his tax breaks for married couples.
But new YouGov polling in The Sun shows the size of task the Tories face in breaking out beyond their core support.
According to YouGov, their Sun polls "consistently finds that around 50 per cent of voters say the statement 'it seems to appeal to one section of society rather than the whole country' applies most to the Conservatives, whereas around 20 per cent say the same of Labour."
One up to Ed Miliband and his One Nation vision, says Labour.
It should also worry Cameron - and delight Miliband - to see that when YouGov asks who the Conservatives "represent", 84 per cent of respondents say 'the rich' and 72 per cent say 'professional and business people'.
"Despite all of the political capital Cameron expended on the issue of gay marriage," YouGov reports, "more Britons still think his party is not close to gay people than think it is."
Meanwhile the Conservatives have a score of minus 23 per cent for women and minus 30 per cent for ethnic minorities. Mirroring how close voters feel the party is to the rich, 'the poor' are rated as one of the groups the Conservatives are furthest from, with a score of minus 65 per cent.
The swing to Labour since the 2010 general election is explained by two key factors. Labour has won over LibDems who don't like their party's role in the coalition government, while Cameron has been hemorrhaging support to Nigel Farage's Ukip.
The potential of Ukip was underlined by the report in the Independent on Sunday showing that Cameron donors have defected to Farage to the tune of nearly £500,000 since 2010.
Some of those defections are responsible for the massive decline in Tory membership revealed by the ConservativeHome website. When Cameron won the party leadership in 2005, a total of 253,600 members cast ballots. Senior party sources have apparently told ConservativeHome there are now 134,000 constituency members.
That's a drop of almost half in the number of foot-soldiers Cameron can call on in the "ground war" at the 2015 general election.
ConservativeHome is owned by Lord Ashcroft, whose polling of 40 Tory marginals earlier this month showed that the swing to Labour in the must-win seats is bigger than in national polls, evidence that Miliband is doing what Barak Obama did – winning where he needs to.
Ashcroft turned up at a Fabian Society fringe meeting in Brighton last week and declared that the 2015 election is "Labour's to lose". Cameron and Osborne need to do more than come down hard on the long-term unemployed – reinforcing a Tory stereotype - if they are to make up the gap. ·