Populus’s monthly poll in the Times is out and has voting intention figures – with changes from their last poll – of CON 41%(-4), LAB 35%(+5), LDEM 16%(+1). The poll was conducted between the 7th and 9th November, so is the first to be carried out after the Glenrothes by-election and the interest rate cut.

The Conservative level of support is at the lower end of the support they’ve registered in recent polls, but is not particularly out of line. More notable is the big increase in Labour support, the five point boost to 35% gives them their highest level of support in any poll since March and the highest from Populus since November last year. On a uniform swing it would produce a very hung Parliament indeed – even the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats together would only scrape a majority.

There will be plenty of speculation about what has caused the sharp narrowing of the gap. The by-election and the interest rate cut are the obvious candidates, though actually rather a lot has gone on since the previous Populus poll. Their last survey was at the beginning of October, way back before the bailout of the banks and the fuss over George Osborne, Peter Mandleson and the luxury yacht. My guess is that this is actually a result of either Glenrothes or the rate cut – while strictly speaking one should only ever compare one pollster’s figures to figures from the same company, ICM and Populus’s methodology have relatively minor differences and immediately prior to Glenrothes ICM were showing a 13 point lead.

As to which – who knows? A high profile by-election win can have a surprisingly large effect on polling figures (look for example at the effect Brent East had on the Lib Dems). One wouldn’t normally expect interest rates to have a big effect, but in this case the highly personalised intervention of Gordon Brown to make banks pass on rates could have had an effect. There’s another reason to think that may be the cause which I’ll come back to at the end of this post.

Looking at other questions in the poll, we still find the contrast between preferences now and in the longer term future. Gordon Brown has a large lead over David Cameron as the “right leader to deal with Britain’s economy in a recession” (52% to 32%). However, David Cameron beats Brown when people are asked who is “better able to lead Britain forward after the next general election” (42% to 35%).

On the leader ratings Gordon Brown receives higher ratings than David Cameron for the first time, albeit narrowly, scoring 5.04 to Cameron’s 4.94. Nick Clegg scores 4.08, the lowest recorded by any Lib Dem leader to date.

Turning specifically to the economy Populus also asked about how effective various solutions would be in helping the economy. The route that met with the most public support was that which has actally happened – a big cut in interest rates – which 77% of people thought would be effective. Almost as popular was increased public spending on construction projects and house building (73%). A slightly smaller, but still solid majority (63%) thought “tax cuts even if it boosts government borrowing” would be effective. When the consequences of borrowing are mentioned in the question though enthusiasm starts to falter. Asked about “increased public borrowing now to boost the economy in the short term even if it means higher taxes and slower spending growth in the long term” only 40% think it would be effective, with 49% disagreeing.

Finally, while economic optimism for the country as a whole remains low – 66% think the country will fare baly next year, the second lowest Populus have recorded in five years, economic optimism for people’s personal financial position has become positive. 51% think them and their family will do well financially in the next year with 44% thinking they will do badly. In contrast people’s expectations for their own financial future back in July was strongly negative and this switch could be a big factor in the government’s recovery.

It does, however, also highlight a vulnerability. What if Labour’s recovery is based on people’s expectation that they themselves won’t suffer in the downturn… but then they do? That gap between expections and what is actually likely to happen in an economic downturn raises the question of what will happen when people’s expectations hit reality…

111 Responses to “Populus show lowest Tory lead since April”

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  1. Slightly off topic (I’m a bit more McCain than Obama when it comes to my grip of economics), but I work for a Lab MP and the whole Post Office Card Account thing has generated more post than anything else apart from climate change. The decision on POCA and the investment of £1.7bn into the network could have a substantial effect on the Govts poll rating.

  2. I still feeel that while the Tories remain above 40% they don’t have to worry hugely.

    I wouldn’t actually write off a huge surge in Labour support in Scotland after that By-election and all the bad PR for the SNP. A Scottish poll showing Westminster voting intension would be particularly interesting now, because it might allow us to see these changing English polls in a clearer context.

  3. Warren – *proper* letters, or printed postcards/suggested wording letters provoked by a pressure group?

  4. What bad PR for the SNP?

    We didn’t win and are disappointed but we did get three votes for every two we got in the General election which to be honest most politicains would be delighted with.

    Looking at News night Scotland (or NewNicht as people like to cal it) there seems to be a growing feeling that The Lloyds HBOS deal might well not go ahead and in that case it will be the SNP who may look like the ones who come out best.

    A month or so back GB looked in charge by brokering the deal while Alex seemed to be an onlooker, but now that people are questioning the need and effect on competeion and the government has been prepared to recapitalise banks the focus is shifting to the potential 10,000 job loses and the loss of control.

    I wouldn’t expect the SNP to be ahead of Labour in the next set of polls but to paraphrase mark twain ” tales of our demise have been greatly exaggerated”.


  5. Warren – it might well do, if the govt reinstates the POs it’s busily been closing. My parents’ local PO has just closed and they and many others are furious about it. It’s at this local level that a change of policy needs to manifest if it’s to affect public opinion.

  6. I don’t think it would be practical to re-open closed ones, the sub-postmasters will already have got their compensation and moved on. The ones it would rescue would be those that are under threat of closure.

  7. Having been for a while PO spokesperson for highland council and having overseen the closures the situation is pretty dire.

    Basically once the decision was made to put the PO on to a commercial footing the righting was on the wall. Those who depend on the post office most don’t tend to have much spending power so unless it is subsidised or finds new business it is in trouble.

    the Highlands is particularly difficult as we have lots of very small offices many run be retired people almost as a community service. In some cases they use their pension to subsidies the business and when they go so does the PO. A real underlying issue has been unplanned closures where people throw in the towel and no one wants the business.

    A friend of mine closed his last year and was delighted to do so as since the loss of benefits he had spent the last five years working harder every year for less money. When he was doing council tax payments over the counter less than 10% of what PO Ltd charged the council went to him which meant that even without Overheads and NI it was impossible to do enough transactions to cover the minimum wage.

    Since closure he’s had the first full holiday of ever a week in four years and spend his time doing relief work in other PO’s. He doesn’t have the pressure or work as long hours, but his income has gone up.

    I remember being in a debate almost seven years ago in the Council when the benefits changes were being discussed and calling for PO’s to be allowed to offer independent financial advice in the wake of miss selling. Now we seem to be getting that form Lord Yacht.

    Unless the government makes the choice to turn PO’s into the service deliver point for all state agencies, Local government NHS benefits and payments it just won’t generate the income needed to sustain a network.

    As long as each government department or agency is allowed to make it’s own narrow commercial decisions about providers without any over arching policy the PO will continue to leach business.

    This should be a central issue in the next general election but unless the public push all parties (including my own) for a definitive plan for the future of the PO, the problems will just continue to fester.


  8. Before Labour bloggers finish rewriting the history books could one of them just answer the following questions about their hero’s performance

    1 Who ignored the debt spiral as it built up?

    2 Who weakened regulation and allowed Northern Rock to offer 125 per cent mortgages?

    3 Who diminished Bank of England control over our banking system?

    4 Who wrecked final salary pensions with a 5 billion pound a year levy?

    5 Who ignored the risks of the house price and equity boom?

    …and I have’nt even mentioned the gold reserves….


  9. No, they can’t, since this isn’t the site for that sort of partisan argument.

  10. Anthony – printed cards from the Ntl Fed of Sub-Postmasters. Not of the same weight as personal/individual letters, agreed, but numbers would suggest a strength of feeling on the issue. It may not be that significant – though it affects the older section of the electorate disproportionately and they ote in greater numbers – but it’s one less stick to beat the govt with.

    Peter – agree that once the PO was made a business rather than a public service (was that a Conservative or Labour govt decision?) things were bound to become difficult for low-volume sub POs. I take yesterday’s decision to be an indication that the Govt is looking to route many services through local POs as people do still see them as a public/community resource rather than a business like a local branch of Greggs the baker or whatever.

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