ICM’s monthly poll for the Guardian (a week late, presumably to avoid the Easter bank holidays which make it tricky to get a decent sample) shows a sharp fall for Labour and an advance for the Liberal Democrats. The topline figures, with changes since ICM’s last voting intention poll at the beginning of April, are CON 34%(-1), LAB 32%(-3), LDEM 24%(+3).

Labour’s level of support is one of the lowest recorded in any poll this Parliament (the other being the MORI poll which put the Conservatives 9 points ahead, and which in hindsight was almost certainly a rogue), the Liberal Democrats’ one of their highest. Using their present weighting regime ICM tend to give higher ratings to the Liberal Democrats than any of the other pollsters, when other companies had them falling to the mid-teens after Charles Kennedy’s resignation ICM never reported Lib Dem support below 19%, but even by ICM’s standards this represents a significant advance for them.

There has been little coverage of the Lib Dems in recent weeks, suggesting that their advance is due more to them being the public’s “not Labour” party of choice, gaining support as Labour stumbles. The fall in Labour’s score could be a result of the arrest of Des Smith finally giving some salience to the issue of party funding, or perhaps the first effects of concern over NHS funding. Another poll by MORI for the Sun shows that Labour have only a 3 point advantage over the Tories as the party that “would be most effective in getting good value for the public money it spends”. Given that Labour normally has a solid advantage in any poll asking about public services this poll does raise some questions over whether the question of NHS funding has started to bite.

Of course, as with the vast majority of polls, the changes are within the margin of error and, unless other polls reflect the same trends, it could turn out to be entirely meaningless.

The BNP are up to 2% in the poll – ICM do not normally report the level of BNP support in their monthly polls, but if their previously levels of support were similar to those found by YouGov this is likely to be a slight rise – though obviously not on the scale reported by YouGov last week. This isn’t necessarily a contradiction, the spiral of silence effect that has historically led to Conservative voters being unwilling to admit their voting intention is likely to be far, far stronger for a party with an image like the BNP’s. YouGov polls are self-completed by respondents, which makes respondents more willing to admit to unfashionable or socially unacceptable answers. While ICM adjust for the spiral of silence, their method works on the assumption that some people too embarrassed to admit how they’ll vote will vote in the same way they did last time – it can’t account for people too embarrassed to admit to a new voting intention.

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