Did Osborne give Tories the poll boost they needed? Not really

Polls show Autumn Statement was no game-changer, while Ukip claims it's taking charge in key marginals

Column LAST UPDATED AT 11:28 ON Tue 10 Dec 2013
Don Brind

CONSERVATIVES hoping that George Osborne's Autumn Statement would boost their party's general election chances will be disappointed by three public opinion polls conducted since Osborne sat down. 

The most recent - by ICM for today's Guardian – gives the Tories a two-point rise to 32 per cent, while Labour fall back one point to 37. (The Lib Dems are down a point on 12 and Ukip are on nine.)

It's a move in the right direction, of course, but it makes little impact on the Tories' current chances of winning an overall majority in 2015. 

Why did all those positive numbers about the economy from the Office for Budget Responsibility not win Osborne more friends? Because, as the Guardian reports, “Most people in Britain are still not feeling the benefit from economic recovery, even though the majority are finally convinced that the turnaround is under way.

“An emphatic 70 per cent of those surveyed maintain that the recovery is not benefitting them or their families, while only 26 per cent say they have gained as the economy has improved, adding credence to Labour attacks over the cost of living.”

Shadow chancellor Ed Balls has no reason to gloat, however. 

The ICM poll shows Cameron and Osborne retaining a solid lead over Miliband and Balls "as the team most trusted to manage the economy properly". Thirty-nine per cent back the Tory pair as against only 23 per cent supporting the two Eds – adding fuel to the argument that Miliband should find himself a most trusted prospective chancellor.

Yet the other polls taken in the wake of the Autumn Statement also give the Tories reason to worry that Labour are dictating the political agenda with the line that it's not the national economy that concerns ordinary people, but the cost of living. 

A YouGov survey for the Sunday Times showed the Tories climbing by five points – but from a lower base, so Labour’s lead is still five points. (Labour were down two, and Ukip down three.)

Commenting on the YouGov poll, Mike Smithson of Political Betting said the move in the Conservative vote was "outside the margin of error" and that "if the poll proves to be a fair measure then it will be job well done for Osborne". 

Up to a point: a five-point gap would still give Labour a majority in the House of Commons.

The third poll, by Populus, taken over the weekend, makes grimmer reading for Osborne and Cameron. It puts Labour up three points on 41 and the Tories down one on 33, a gap of eight points. (The Lib Dems are on on 11, and Ukip on seven).

So the Tories still need a game-changer – and, of course, they are fighting on two fronts: against Labour with its currently successful cost-of-living campaign, and against Nigel Farage's Ukip party, which many Tories fear will split the anti-Labour vote and help Miliband into Number Ten.

Which brings me to some other potentially fascinating polling.

Private polls conducted by Survation in eight marginal constituencies, paid for by Ukip millionaire backer Alan Bown, are said by Nigel Farage to show that 70 per cent of Ukip voters in these seats did not vote Conservative in 2010.

Writing in The Independent, Farage argues that this is proof that his party is a force in its own right, not just a breakaway Tory faction to be blamed for splitting the Tory vote.

“Ukip are often asked why we would want to let Labour in rather than a Tory MP or councillor. But what we can see from the polling we have undertaken is that in many Northern areas, it is Ukip who is the only real rival to Labour."

Ukip are drip-feeding the results of the eight constitiuency polls – and have released results from only three so far: Tory-held Thanet South in Kent and two Labour-held seats, Great Grimsby and Dudley North, which are seventh and ninth on the list of 20 constituencies Cameron has to capture to achieve an overall Commons majority.

In all three seats, the Survation polling puts Labour in the lead. In Thanet and Grimsby, Ukip are in second place while in Dudley North they are close to level-pegging with the Tories.

Pressure will now come on Farage to release the other five polls to back up his claim that the majority of Ukipsupporters are not ex-Tory supporters.

He will also be urged to put up or shut up about whether he will stand in 2015 in Thanet South. The polling suggests Labour’s current five per cent advantage could wither if Farage, with his national profile as a party leader, were to stand.   ·