While the 16 point Tory lead on Sunday provided big headlines and no doubt cheered up Conservatives across the country, I suspect even the most rabid Tory suspected in their heart that it was probably an outlier and that the lead would return to more normal levels in the next YouGov poll. The latest ICM poll however suggests there may indeed have been some sort of shift in public opinion.

The monthly ICM poll for the Guardian has topline voting intention figures, with changes from their poll conducted last week, of CON 42%(+2), LAB 29%(-2), LDEM 21%(+1). The poll was conducted between the 14th and 16th, so would have included David Cameron’s speech to the Tory spring conference.

The Conservative lead of 13 points is the largest I can find looking back at ICM polls since 1987. While it’s smaller than the 16 point lead the Tories enjoyed with YouGov at the weekend, this seems to be a pattern between ICM and YouGov recently – the higher levels of Lib Dem support reported by ICM are at the expense of the Tories. Whichever pollster is correct, they seem to be interpreting the same underlying position.

Asked about who they trust more with the economy, ICM found an 8 point lead for the Conservatives, 40% to 32%.

It appears that, for whatever reason, the budget has heralded a fall in confidence in Labour’s economic management and a decisive switch towards the Conservatives. While we’ve got a couple of polls confirming it, what we can’t tell is whether it will last at all. If it does we are in a new game – it’s the sort of lead where David Cameron is going to stop facing questions about why he isn’t doing better, and is instead going to end up facing more criticism from his own troops about why he isn’t being bolder. Labour would start facing assumptions of their defeat in the media and itchy backbenchers with the minds focused by possible unemployment.

UPDATE: Tables now up on ICM’s website here. The difference between the lead here and the lead in YouGov’s poll was actually mostly down to ICM’s topline adjustment for the “spiral of silence” – the theory that some people who say don’t know are actually supporters of an unpopular party who are too bashful to admit it to the interviewer. While people still refer to this an as adjustment to make up for “shy Tories”, for the past five years at least it’s normally favoured “shy Labourites”. This month ICM’s unadjusted figures would have been CON 43%, LAB 28%, LDEM 21%.

88 Responses to “Now ICM shows double-digit Tory lead”

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  1. Talking about efficiency does anyone remember the Monty Python sketch about an accountant who’s amputated his legs off.

    He amputated the left one because it used up the same amount of energy as the right one but wasn’t as strong and was therefore “inefficient”.

    He removed the right one because he couldn’t walk with only one leg.

    Obviously waste should be minimised but I don’t go along with this argument that because some money gets wasted we should therefore not allow the state to spend any of our money.

    It’s a similar argument to the excuse people use for not giving money to Africa. Bad governance means that some money will get stolen/misused therefore we give nothing and nothing improves.

  2. John C
    I seem to remember that when TB was in opposition in 1994-1997 he too promised the world and he indeed would say anything for a vote. The result was he won a landslide. Blair was a skilful politician but he certainly wasn’t a man of substance.If you look at the promises he made in 1994-1997 and what he actually delivered in 1997-2007 then it would be true to say that he didn’t deliver on an awful lot of the promises he made.

    To a certain extent I think the dye is now cast barring a miracle or a very major gaff and Cameron will be the next PM. The voters just seem to have had enough and are ripe for change.

  3. KTL – Cameron and Blair are indeed very similar – it’s one of the reasons I don’t like Cameron. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.

    But it’s all rather by the by – there is little to choose between the parties in reality. The Tories won’t cut taxes because they can’t afford to and don’t want to be seen as threatening public services, Labour won’t because they don’t want to. On the other hand The Tories won’t raise taxes because they don’t want to, and Labour won’t because they’re already in enough trouble for having done so.

    But I don’t think that’s necessarily bad – tax and spending are really dictated by the voters who dump a government when one gets too high or the other too low. The band in which the voters will permit movement isn’t really that big.

    Anyway, it will be interesting to see how the polls go from here. It does seem odd that an utterly nondescript and unsurprising budget has finally given the Tories a lead they should arguably have had for a while now. That makes me think that the numbers are soft – not that the poll is a freak (after all there are at least two of them), just that many of the people who have said Conservative are still very much open to change.

    If Brown catches a break and can get his head above water (and then, most importantly uses that opportunity), then things could swing back. I’m not close to convinced that this is a done deal yet.

  4. For years Brown went on about being prudent. Now it’s out he hasn’t been. It’s like a marriage where someone says they’ve had an affair in the marriage bed – very hard to forgive.

  5. The detailed data from the 2nd ICM poll is very consistent with the first . LibDems again in 2nd place in the South a fraction lower than in the first poll but a bit higher in the North/Scotland 20% v 16% in poll 1 . The South figures are the most clearly divergent from Yougov’s figures .

  6. Jon H – But it’s all rather by the by – there is little to choose between the parties in reality.

    I have to dissagree with you on this – I think there is a very big difference between the parties, its just that Cameron is trying to make the parties look similar , particularly on public spending, in order to tempt voters back into the Tory fold.

  7. Ian-

    “That tells me the public are once again starting look at Labour as the tax and spend party they have always been and that has to be very worrying for Labour”

    I agree Ian-A question in the last Polls showed a majority of the opinion that tax reduction & public expenditure are not mutually exclusive.

    If this view takes hold it will play to the Conservatives who believe that there are always significant areas of waste & proligacy under a Labour Government which can be stopped.I think the public are ready-for the first time in a long while-to accept that idea.

    I feel that there is a mood developing something along these lines:-

    ” OK-we’ve had the massive increase in funding for Public Services.Yes I voted for it… but we don’t seem to have had the Reforms which Blair promised would go along with it.A lot of it seems to have gone on pay.The State Benefits system seems out of control.
    If this can now only be sustained by going back to the old Booze ,Fags & Petrol trick then I think I’ll vote for the Reforms this time round -because the’ve had the cash & I’m begining to feel the loss of it”

    The irony of this is that Darling & Brown are constrained on Public Expenditure now-it’s rate of increase will fall under their current plans. But they don’t say so explicitly because it highlights the economic difficulties.

    Maybe, just as it was only Labour who could say “we will increase Public Expenditure” & be believed-it is now only the Conservatives who can say “Public Expenditure increases must now be constrained” & be believed.

    I’m not sure the Conservatives are confident of this yet-hence all the debate about adhering to Labour spending plans/ no tax cuts in a first Parliament etc etc.

    But I’m personally delighted to see Cameron asking his people to dust off & update the James Report.

  8. Since 1979 both the Tories and Labour have enjoyed long periods with ‘landslide’ majorities. Rightly or wrongly the Tories used theirs to devastating effect whereas I would argue that Labour have squandered their opportunity to make radical changes to our society.
    Could the relative volatility of the polls reflect a nervousness of the electorate to deliver another landslide majority and everytime the Tories get a big lead there is a re-adjustment.
    My gut feeling is that the voters want to give the Tories a chance but with a small enough majority that they have to work for it.
    (First time here-trying to be non partisan, hope I managed it)

  9. We are dealing with a range of imponderables and as I mentioned in an earlier post there’s not likely to be an election forover two years and an awful lot can happen in that time. There’s been a few comments in this thread about what Labour will do if the figures don’t improve and I think that the prospect of losing in a party that has got used to winning will focus minds very sharply. The current generation of Labour ministers are not entirely unknown (the Millibands come to mind) and many Labour MPs will begin to think that saving their seats is more important than past loyalties. It might cross their minds that a new broom at the top might contrast favourably with a well-established and increasingly over confident Cameron. I can also imagine some plusses for Labour in London if Boris wins and, as I think would be inevitable, gets involved in successive inadvertent cock-ups! In my book there’s all to play for and it’s going to be an interesting ride.

  10. just out of intrest dose anyone know weather or not the exit poll at the last GE with field work was put up on the mori-web site as soon as it was published beacuse it’s a bit odd that some sites take a few days to update their web-sites with the latest polling data during elections.

  11. Julian B: I do agree with you to some extent, that as the news filters through of a big Tory lead in the polls, maybe the next poll is realined slightly, because the public get a little nervy at the prospect of a big Tory majority, and the cycle goes on Labour doing better in the next poll etc,etc,
    I do think Labour have made radical changes to society in their term in office, and they are as equally contentious as the Tories in the eighties
    But I do think that when Historians look back, the Thatcher years of the eighties will always obscure anything else to date that has happened in this country since World War Two.

  12. David ; I cannot agree that Boris winning can do anything to help Labour in the slightest
    For a start he would have come from a long way behind against the odds to gain victory, and I think everyone who votes for him knows full well there will be cock-ups, Ken has had his fair share himself so I think this maybe cluching at straws.

  13. I find it amazing that Labour people are clutching at straws trying fervently to hope that Boris winning will be good for them.

    It was said when Boris became a candidate that repeated “cock ups” were inevitable during the campaign and so he had no chance of beating Ken. Instead the only controversies have all been centred around Ken/Jasper.

    Now we’re supposed to think that the inevitable controversies that should already be happening by Boris may not have prevented Boris himself winning a direct election for London Mayor . . . but it will prevent the Conservatives as a whole winning the next General Election? Anyone seriously think that?

    Besides, is anyone crediting the poor Labour rating at the moment to the Ken/Jasper stories that have been running? Never seen anyone connect the two. Why should we expect anything Boris does in the next 2 years to be more serious than that and have a bigger impact?

    The only impact nationally that Boris beating Ken is likely to have is play into tone along with these polls of Conservatives winning/Labour losing for the first time in a decade. Especially with the London-centric national media.

  14. Philip the campaign is only one day old officially.No cock-ups so far, but there’s plenty of time.

    I agree with your main point that Ken/Boris performance as mayor will have no impact on the next General Election.

  15. Philip and John tt

    Thinking about it I agree that Boris ‘cock-ups’ might not have much impact nationally but it could in London where there are many Labour seats including marginals whose outcome could be influenced by a relatively few voters being turned off the Tories because of Boris’s antics.

  16. Possibly, but I’d like to see an analysis of how Ken’s performance as mayor has affected Labour’s polling. I think Londoners distinguish them quite clearly.

    If Boris gets in, then it may be different. Ken is very distinct from the Labour leadership. Boris isn’t so distinct from Cameron (same college, age, embarrassing photo etc).

    If Boris gets in and starts cutting jobs (sorry, “waste”), that might well give a chance to Labour to push the “same old Tories” line.

  17. Random thoughts on the possible impact of Boris / Ken:

    1) Ken was actually something of a Labour Boris (or vice versa) – essentially gifted but with the possibility of being a loose cannon. Based on this if London forgave Ken’s many failings (his run in with the Evening Standard reporter springs to mind) there is little to suggest they’d be any harsher on Boris.

    2) If Ken loses in part of people staying at home, it could well motivate formerly apathetic Labour voters. Watching turnout will be interesting – a high turnout win for Boris indicates real support, a low turnout win might point more to apathy.

    3) If Tory gains are coming in the South East then it may be that anything happening in London is more significant than they might otherwise appear.

    4) Boris’s people have had Boris quit drinking and have been controlling him very closely – it will be interesting to see how they’re going to handle the increased exposure which will inevitably come in the coming weeks.

    5) Ken didn’t get where he got by being an idiot and London does have a strong link to him personally (remember he won against Labour as an independent). Plus up until a week or so ago polls looked OK for him.

    All a bit random and with no conclusion other than it’s not over 6 weeks before polling day.

  18. by the look of most polls the conservatives will make gains in the south-east and midlands but wales is an odd area in which the conservatives may make a few gains but nothing totaling more than 100 or so seats hear, in the north it’s anyones game with the labour party still in the mid to low 30’s and the conservatives in the mid 30’s lib dem votes will count hear as to who gains the most seats, any national vote above 45% is good for the conservatives.

  19. In both the ICM & YouGov Polls Cons have a lead in every Social Category.For Age Groups YouGov have a Con lead in every one-allbeit a narrow lead for 18-34 & ICM a Con lead in every one except 18-24.

    In this context Hazel Blears made some very interesting comments in a speech yesterday:-

    “vital that the party pitched itself as the party of the affluent as well as the poorest”

    “If we retreat into our comfort zone & duck the tough issues such as crime & immigration , our coalition will fracture”

    ” We have to persuade people in Hastings, Basildon,Harlow & Luton that we are firm but fair on immigration & that we understand their apprehensions about the economy”

    “That means appealing to the many, not the few”

    Well I didn’t think it would be long before the Blairites started to bleat.

  20. A belated reply to Jon H’s post, as I have only just come back on-line.

    I actually agree with you, Jon, that it might be to a replacement Labour PM’s political benefit if many people had not previously heard of him/her, i.e. (s)he did not have baggage. However, I was making a more technical point. When Blair was leader, the opinion polls could ask comparative polls to ask how people would vote given a named alternative leader, i.e. Brown. As there is no clear alternative at present to Brown, and as substantial numbers of voters have never heard of the realistic possibilities, it is correspondingly difficult for the opinion pollsters to estimate whether Labour could improve their prospects by the drastic action of changing leader again.

    I suggested that changing leader is the only major thing that Labour could do to change their current situation. However, it is very possible that this would not work anyway, in which case they may be stuck with their current level of popularity. Unless definite electoral advantage can be identified in changing leader, as was the case with the Brown/Blair transition not least in relation to Iraq, Labour will hardly want to go through the disruption to Government and party of such a change.

    With respect to Ian’s point about the press, the current economic crisis worries people about their houses, their jobs and their investments. Money talks directly to the people, which is in part why poor economic judgement, or simply bad luck, can be so lethal to a Government’s political prospects.

  21. If Hazel Blears is the voice of reason for the Labour Party, you are doomed.

  22. Well done the Daily Mirror!You have just given the Tories another boost by showing the T.V. footage of Cameron breaking a few traffic laws on his bike,I dont think there are many of us out there who havent done similar things in the past, infact many people may think this is just the sort of Big Brother, Health and Saftey, Dont do this ,dont do that, society we live in today, which seems to have been encoraged by Labour
    Whats next a camera following Cameron to the toilet to see if he washes his hands
    If this is the best the Government supporters can come up with then they are in real trouble

  23. Calm down Glenn – it’s just part of the unfortunately widespread media tendency to trivialise politics (like thundering – inaccurately, as it turned out – about Balls’ remarks at PMQs).

    Pity they don’t concentrate on the real issues; for example subjecting the rather empty conservative policies (as opposed to their quite clever soundbites) to a proper examination, just in case they form the next government. :(

  24. I agree JohnH but I actually heard a Government Minister saying on the radio ( not sure who it was) “This is terrible for Cameron and his image, and shows that this is the same old Tories having the same disregard of the values we have in this country.”
    A real vote winner if you are a Tory!

  25. Charles Clarke’s “Doomsday List” indicates ( he says) that, because of boundary changes, 7500 voters changing sides in 24 constituencies-mainly in the South East-will wipe out Labour’s majority.

    A swing of 2% is all it needs.

    No wonder they are panicking!

  26. Hazel Blears again:- She organised a demonstration to stop Cameron being photographed in front of The Salford Lads Club:a Smiths mecca in her constituency.
    “No Toffs round here” was the general message.

    Isn’t the diminutive class warrior a little charmer.

  27. The loss of confidence in the Labour Party could well stem from the economic climate at present. The Northern Rock Crisis, high fuel costs, and increased food prices. Also there will be a lack of confidence due to the refusal to hold a referendum over the EU Treaty as promised, and the scandal of lost sensitive datafrom various Govt. departments.
    Failure to control illegal immigration, and a Home Office “melt down” won’t have helped much either. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan must also be factors in Labour’s declining support.

  28. Frederic, we say that changing leader is the only thing that labour can do but in reality Brown has hardly been a font of innovative policy ideas. My view is that he’s got mired in the business of governing and in doing so has surrendered the politicial initiative to Cameron.

    I think a decent slug of positive policy people cared about would make a difference (and would highlight the Tory weakness in this area) but right now the government is putting forward a series of things which are at best tedious or business as usual and at worst controversial or unpopular.

    The public will forgive his past if he painted a future they liked but right now I don’t see his policy position as any better than Cameron’s – a combination of soundbites and non-committal aspiration.

  29. There are two key points made by both teh YouGov and teh ICM polls – which are interlinked.

    First:- Labour – or perhaps more specifically Brown – has lost its/his reputation for economic competence. No amount of policy initiatives can repair that. Brown can only hope and pray that economic developments over the next two years are not as bad as they may be. The problem is that now that his chancellorship is under the microscope, his famous claims to prudence and abolition of boom and bust are being shown as dust.

    Second:- The Tory lead is now sufficient to ensure a working majority despite the bias in the electoral system. This could deliver further Tory gains in local elections in May – including London Mayoralty. While the general election may not come until 2010, the progressive elimination of Labour from many councils has two effects when the GE eventually arrives:

    (1) labour candidates and activists will have become accustomed to losing in large parts of the country and so feel demotivated – making it harder to enthuse their supporters.

    (2) voters will have had experience of Tory councils which continue to provide necessary services efficiently while holding down taxes – so the “fear” factor over “Tory Cuts” won’t bite in the way Labour expect.

    In my view, Labour have now lost the next election, but the question of by how much is still to be seen. Will Cameron scrape in or be elected by a landslide ?

  30. Paul H-J
    “…his famous claims to prudence and abolition of boom and bust are being shown as dust”. You mean, perhaps, could be shown – if conditions get considerably worse over the rest of this year.

    But so far, in difficult times, we are not in recession (and hopefully will not be); unemployment has fallen again, consumer spending has held up, and so far house prices have steadied rather than slumped.

    Like America and the rest of the EU, we are facing problems but we are NOT back to “boom/bust”. If this is avoided, and when the present panic has subsided, the government might get some credit for keeping our economy on an even keel.

  31. JohnH – Indeed. Claims that the economy is in collapse are a little premature when it’s actually still growing.

    I’ve not seen a single credible report which puts us in anything approaching a recession. Even the CBI’s figures out today are saying 1.7/1.8% over the next couple of years. (And the treasury are predicting higher than that and actually have a very good record in forecasting these things, better than most other groups).

    There are problems for sure, but they’re not as bad as many are making out. Potentially the question is if things don’t go south, will certain parties be seen as crying wolf?

  32. The issue about “Boom and Bust” isn’t about whether we are in recession or not, but whether we have sustainable growth.

    Those who question Browns reputation, and I am one of them, look at immigration, and the growth of consumer spending as the two main drivers of growth during the Brown era.

    I personally don’t have an issue with immigration as I think we need more young people, but the influx in the last few years has helped keep inflation down by making relatively cheap labour available while the economy expanded, if we have 55 more people mostly working with few dependants then we can grow the economy by 5%.

    It’s only recently, probably close to a decade after it started, that people are seeing the social costs in terms of schools and health kick in.

    Again I don’t have a problem with that as if they are here and working hard like the rest of us they should have the same benefits and I am uneasy about reducing them, but the lag between the growth and the costs means that we are now seeing another side of the Brown miracle.

    The second issue is the one of debt, whether through credit cards or the rise in property prices and equity release. A decade of low interest rates easy credit and rising property prices has created a situation where debt partly fuelled the consumer economy.

    That consumer spending created jobs, cut benefit bills and increased tax revenues through direct taxation, stamp duty and corporation tax, particularly from the banks lending the money.

    It also led to a big increase in imports particularly from China, although low prices and artificial exchange rates kept the value low while the volume increased.

    Now that credit is more expensive and corporate tax receipts falling we could see consumer spending slow rapidly, unemployment rise and the engine of recent growth stop. That might not be a recession but it will be a slow down.

    That will be the point at which we can assess the real Brown legacy, when the unsustainable drivers of debt and immigration are no longer there to drive it forward.

    I think one reason why we have out performed Europe over the Brown stewardship as that their economies have been drive by what they earn while ours like America’s has been driven by what we earn plus what we borrow.

    That is fine while it lasts but by definition debt driven growth can’t last for ever because there is no such thing as an endless credit line.

    We are now predicted two slow years running up to the election and whether or not it is recession with the RPI set to out strip wage rises, a tightened jobs market and house prices static it will probably feel like one to a significant part of the electorate.

    If you are driving at 80 mph and slow to 40 mph it feels like you are crawling along even if it’s still over the 30 mph you drive at most of the time.

    That “feels bad” factor will be far more important and damaging for Labour, come the election, than any technical definition of recession.


  33. Peter – excellent post.

  34. The “boom and bust” option now would be to lower interest rates in order to stimulate growth. That’s what every recent chancellor did before Brown.

    The reason why Brown deserves credit is that he removed from himself the power to lower interest rates and specified the inflation figure as the one indicator that the Bank of England should use when determining rates.

    Inflation will be kept low at all costs. What puzzles me is that Labour are not banging on about the dangers to inflation of lowering rates, or taxes for that matter.

    What Peter says about immigration is interesting – isn’t it the case that the migrant workforce has become itinerant and gone where the prospects are brightest (in the Polish case, that’s back home for many)?

  35. Peter-I don’t believe that “immigration” per se has been a “main driver” of economic growth. I think the evidence indicates it is not so.

    Generic studies in USA, Canada & Netherlands indicate that immigration has negligible effect on per capita GDP growth.
    NIESR has measured the effect of immigration on UK GDP growth since 1997 at +3%. As net immigration to UK since 1997 has added 2.6% ( of the total 3.9% increase) to population, this again suggests negligible per capita effect.

    It is clear that Labour is drastically rethinking it’s open-door immigration policy in the light of pressure on public services, housing,and, in some areas, crime & social cohesion.

    Total GDP has grown 60% over the ten years since 1997 in current prices , or 25% in constant prices ( IMF)

    The biggest contributor to UK GDP is the Service Sector; and of that the largest element is Financial Services-the latter being the sector currently anticipating significant job losses.

    I agree with your comments about debt supported consumer spending.I also agree that we-like other western economies-have benefited enormously from Chinese low priced exports of consumer goods.

    I would say that this latter feature, allied to low interest rates & a bouyant Financial Services sector have been the main drivers of our growth-plus one other significant feature you didn’t mention:the public expenditure boom.

    This latter has put huge additional spending power into the public sector workforce, as well as generating jobs in sectors like construction.

    All of these factors are disappearing now-public spending slowing, Financial Services sheding jobs, Consumer Credit availability reduced, Chinese export prices rising-plus the rise in basic food commodities, and the explosion in energy prices.

  36. john tt

    “What puzzles me is that Labour are not banging on about the dangers to inflation of lowering rates, or taxes for that matter.”

    I would suggest that the reason is they are more concerned about economic slowdown than inflation.
    Recession loses them an election. Inflation can be blamed ( reasonably) on prices changes external to UK…anyway since when did GB worry about the effect of inflation on people-look at what he’s done to Council Tax.

    But it’s the BoE’s problem & they are certainly between a Rock & a Hard Place with it.

  37. “since when did GB worry about the effect of inflation on people”

    Since he gave independence to the Bank of England and took the politics out of interest rate setting, giving them a low inflation target.

    Inflation is the biggest scourge that could blight our future. Recessions are linked to the “bust” that comes after pre-election, politics driven cuts in interest rates.

    I do agree with you about what has driven growth, though.

  38. john tt-yes fair comment.

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