Lord Ashcroft has released a second tranche of polls in Con-v-Lab ultramarginals, full details are here. It’s a repeat of his first polling of Con-Lab seats in April and now as then, Ashcroft polled the 12 most marginal Conservative held seats with Labour in second place, plus two other seats (South Thanet and Great Yarmouth) that he thought might have interesting UKIP results. Note that this wasn’t what we’ve often called a “marginal poll” in the past (a single poll of a group of marginal seats), it was 14 separate polls, one in each seat, individually sampled and weighted.

In April, the average swing in the 12 Con-Lab ultra marginals was 5.5% from Con to Lab, the same as in the national polls at the time. In other words, Con-Lab ultra-marginals were behaving right in line with national polling.

The average picture in the national polls is unchanged since April – the national swing from Con to Lab in GB polls conducted during the time Ashcroft did his latest fieldwork was 5.4% from Con to Lab. Lord Ashcroft’s findings in the marginal polls however have shown a slight weakening in the Labour position relative to the Conservatives, looking at just the 12 ultra-marginal seats the Conservatives are down by about 1.5% on average, Labour down by about 2.7%, UKIP up by about 4.5%. This looks like a European boost – the previous poll was done before the European election campaign, this one started in mid-June. The average swing in the ultra-marginals is now 4.9 from Con to Lab, meaning an increase in UKIP support has slightly hurt Labour. While the difference is too small to really make a fuss about, it also means that Ashcroft’s polls now show a slightly smaller swing in Con held marginals than nationally – in line with what we’d expect given the normal incumbency effect.

In two of the seats polled, Thanet South and Thurrock, UKIP were ahead in voting intentions, which will be enormous help for them in convincing voters they are a viable general election vote in the local area.

307 Responses to “Ashcroft poll of ultra-marginals”

1 4 5 6 7
  1. MrN
    “Never mind the quality, feel the width !”
    In other words, getting them (plausible local candidates) in place , is half the battle. No one ever finds out if they are any good until they are elected anyway.

  2. @Peter Crawford

    “sorry for the rant, but nobody seems to pay this sort of anything any attention whatsoever.”

    Didn’t come over as rant at all and I sense, as a Conservative sympathiser (I think!), you are writing more in sorrow than anger. You’re quite right in identifying the slow hollowing out of the once indomitable local party constituency associations as one of the reasons why the Tories have struggled electorally over the last 20 years. All political parties have suffered in similar ways, but I think the Tories, primarily because of the demographics of their membership, have suffered the most. I’m old enough to remember elections that go back as far as the 1960s and right up to the early 90s, I always had the impression that the Tories had a better operation on the ground than Labour. Not only more members, but better organised canvassing teams, fund-raisers, social organisers and general foot-sloggers and envelope-stuffers. I know 1997 was a unique election in all sorts of ways, but it was obvious to me that something catastrophic had happened to the Tories in the preceding 5 years, possibly longer. Their 1992 triumph (yes, that election again!) was probably in spite of, not because of, their party organisation.

    Since 1997, I’ve had the sense that Labour have been outfighting the Tories on the ground and, in tight fought elections, this is crucial. Of course, there may be constituencies where this isn’t so, but the general picture looks worrying for the Tories, especially with some of their former foot soldiers now pounding the streets on behalf of UKIP.

    One of Miliband’s achievements as Labour leader, unheralded up to now, has been his ability to maintain grass roots morale, increasing membership and adding councillors to the ground-force. After the party’s electoral mauling in 2010, I feared a disastrous decline in the party’s organisation but, strangely, I’ve found the opposite to be true. The troops are surprisingly buoyant.

  3. Carfrew,

    If I ever become a politician, I might ask your help with redrafting my speeches!

    Peter Crawford,

    Very interesting stuff. I plead ignorance on issues party organisation, since like most of my generation I’ve stayed away from politician parties about much as I’ve stayed away from karaoke parties.

  4. Crossbat

    Not surprisingly in my view, the LD hating foot soldiers for once have the prospect of an election where they will not be fighting on two fronts.
    Spearmint put it well a while ago, “if you don’t want a Tory Govt, your only safe vote is Labour”. Good old FPTP, a very blunt instrument.

  5. I have a tale from the Newark by-election trail. As you know I lived with two Tory members for the past year, and they went down to campaign the same day as I did. They both received free Conservative Party branded jackets, as I believe did everyone else who showed up to campaign.

    There are two points I’d like to raise about that by-election campaign. One was the overwhelming numbers of Conservative Future members there relative to local or older members. The typical Tory activist in Newark was under 25, metropolitan and wealthy, well dressed in shirt and tie with shiny shoes and spoke as though they’d stepped off the playing fields at Eton – even the girls. They were part of Team 2015 – the Tories’ travelling canvassers aiming to visit each of their 80 important constituencies.

    This is good for them, as it means they can get canvassers where they’re needed even if local associations are weak. However, as with all strategic reserves, the troops are of poorer quality than those who’ve served on the front line for years. I heard anecdotes of Tory activists asked about local Newark issues and having not been briefed on local policy at all. I don’t actually care if they’re young and posh, by the way, but how will voters in Lancashire or West Midlands marginals react when a bunch of public schoolboys from halfway across the country come by to tell them who to vote for? They also can’t be everywhere at once and a day’s campaigning is less effective than a sustained effort.

    Second point is that the Tories seem to be squandering their budget. The jackets I mentioned earlier are one example – that must have cost thousands for a bunch of clothing as essentially a gift for activists. That’s not all though – they spend huge amounts on direct mail, billboards and online advertising. These are all less effective than door knocking, but they no longer have the ground troops to do it and seem not to have stopped to the level of hiring canvassers. The money could have been used for a big recruitment drive, but was instead spent on PR.

    During the whole European election campaign I saw no paid ads for Labour or any other party except the European ones, but I did see lots of Labour Doorstep pictures and hand delivered leaflets.

    It seems to me that the Tories have a serious problem with targeting their spending, and it’s letting Labour beat them despite having less money.

  6. Crossbat, the general sense I get from Labour activists is along the lines of Neil Kinnock’s “we’ve got our party back”, a reference to the departure from the Blair era with which Brown (and David Miliband had he won) were always going to be linked by association.

    Whether that translates into Labour being more electable than they were under Neil Kinnock remains to be seen.

  7. Good Afternoon All.
    I agree with your post.
    Yes, Ken Clarke recently said that he used to belong to a Conservative Party which knew how to win Elections.

    The ‘ground war’ seems to be very interesting, and unlike in the 1950’s, 1970’s and 1980’s Labour ‘troops’ seem energetic and well organised.

  8. Since we’re talking about party membership, perhaps some long-run statistics would help:


    Three things surprise me: firstly, how all the main three parties have slowly died out since the post-war period. Like watching a species going extinct, it’s very sad to see.

    Secondly, I’m amazed at the membership advantage that the Tories used to have. The absolute numbers for the Tories in the 1950s are astonishing enough (especially for a young person in today’s Scotland!) but they used to have a more than 2 to 1 advantage over Labour. In contrast, since the mid-1990s, both of the main two parties have been neck-and-neck in membership, and both have roughly halved in numbers.

    Thirdly, unless I’m reading that graph incorrectly, the Labour/SDP split did little to boost Alliance membership, but a lot to lower Labour membership. There’s a massive fall in the Labour figures in the early 1980s, but the “Lib Dem and predecessors” line remains constant. The only explanation I can think up is that the figure just has Liberal figures and excludes the SDP, which is a bit silly.

  9. Chrishornet,

    It looks plausible that Labour will end up with roughly the same share of the vote as they got in 1992, but with the boundaries advantage for Labour and the Tories and LDs doing so poorly that will translate into a small but working majority.

  10. @rosieanddaisie re mr beeswax

    “The answer to both questions is “yes” by the way.”

    Do you really believe that UKIP support has fluctuated rapidly, and the various polls have reflected that accurately?

  11. dave

    twernt a serious response

  12. That’s my sense at the moment too Bill, but you quote the very election that makes me reluctant to give that prediction with any degree of certainty.

    The other thing that does come to my mind is people’s views of Cameron today vs Major in 1992, and Ed Miliband today vs Kinnock in 1992.

  13. @BP

    You probably shouldn’t confuse party membership with party activists, though, particularly with the Conservative Party which was as much a social as political institution. Julian Critchley famously remarked that he only joined because it was the best place to meet women.

  14. peter crawford

    interesting to notice also that labour have selected a very high number of former MPs who were defeated in 2010 to recontest the same seats in 2015. I can’t remember the exact number, but it’s quite high and significant

    Andy JS lists the the following ex-MPs standing for their old seats:

    Patrick Hall (Bedford)

    Dawn Butler (Brent Central)

    Nick Palmer (Broxtowe)

    Gareth Thomas (Clwyd West)

    Joan Ryan (Enfield North)

    Paul Clark (Gillingham)

    Andrew Dismore (Hendon)

    Sally Keeble (Northampton North)

    Kerry Pollard (St Albans) (lost 2005)

    David Drew (Stroud)

    Anne Snelgrove (Swindon South)

    Mike O’Brien (Warks North)

    Bob Blizzard (Waveney)

    Bob Blizzard (Wolverhampton SW)

    (Martin Miller (Cheadle) is also listed but I assume a typo).

    So it’s a reasonable number, but not as many as you might expect. Part of this is demographics – many MPs who lost last time would have been first elected in 1997 in their 30-40s and so may not want to start a new political career at their current age or abandon a new one outside politics.

    Incidentally five of these 14 are among Ashcroft’s 12 ultra-marginals, which I think reinforces my point about naming candidates when known, but also undermines further the ability to extend from these dozen to wider conclusions.

  15. I suppose if they were elected in 2005 on a 35.2% national share their chances in 2015 could be pretty reasonable.

  16. Mr Nameless

    [In Newark the Conservatives] spend huge amounts on direct mail, billboards and online advertising. These are all less effective than door knocking, but they no longer have the ground troops to do it and seem not to have stopped to the level of hiring canvassers.

    Is door-knocking that effective in an election campaign though? Normally it is just used to determine allegiance to help with polling day organisation, though between elections it can be effective in building support. In any case Ashcroft’s poll (taken around a week before polling):

    (see p 19-22)

    showed that the Conservatives had the best contact rate for that (16%) versus Labour (7%) and UKIP (8%). A lot of people seem to have got the wrong impression of activity in Newark by just looking at the town and forgetting about the rest of the constituency.

    Direct mail may not be very effective, but could be more so than delivered leaflets. But what you also don’t mention is telephone canvassing. Again only the Conservatives did this much (11% – though it’s something you might target in the last week). Unlike door-to-door it might also be something that people can be paid to do.

  17. @Bill Patrick

    “Since we’re talking about party membership, perhaps some long-run statistics would help:”

    Of academic interest, perhaps, but they don’t really help at all in terms of assessing where the parties are now in terms of campaigning strength. Labour has actually increased its membership during this Parliament, although admittedly from an historically low level, and then there is always the debate about whether affiliated trade union members should be included in the count. If so, then Labour could claim millions of “members” but I think that might be pushing the boat out a bit far in the sense that their active involvement in the party may be merely voting Labour every four or five years.

    The point I was making, and alluded to by Mr Nameless, Ewen L, Peter Crawford and others is that the only relevant point of discussion on all this is what the situation is likely to be in May 2015 in terms of the numbers and the organisation of the foot soldiers on the ground. What it was like in 1951, though interesting, is really of no significance now.

    The days of mass membership political parties are probably gone for ever, although Labour seems to be the only party actively attempting to broaden its base. In that respect, it will be interesting to see how Miliband’s recent proposals vis-a-vis the unions get on.

  18. rogerh

    I suppose if they were elected in 2005 on a 35.2% national share their chances in 2015 could be pretty reasonable.

    Well quite, but the problem with the ultra-marginals is that they’re the low-hanging fruit and may be untypical.

    Incidentally it’s worth pointing out that the GB rather than UK percentage in 2005 were:

    Lab 36.2%

    Con 33.2%

    L/D 22.7%

    so if we’re looking at polls it probably should be those we are thinking of.

  19. RogerH
    Julian Critchley retired to Ludlow and was always good value on the local festival circuit, another of those politicians with a hinterland, who seem to be in short supply these days.
    Also, and I know it’s anecdotal , but as an onlooker, Stroud LP is a formidable campaigning force and Dave Drew an excellent candidate. The Tories are gonna have to do something extra special to stop him. IMO, of course.

  20. Oops copy and paste error just spotted. That should be:

    Rob Marris (Wolverhampton SW)

  21. I thought Bob Blizzard was taking on a lot!

  22. “The militant group Islamic State (Isis) has ordered all girls and women in and around Iraq’s northern city of Mosul to undergo female genital mutilation, the United Nations says.”

    I was going to post something about retail sales, then I caught this paragraph and UK retail sales seemed too trivial to bother with.

    Unbelievable horrors, I struggle to find the words.

  23. @Paul

    “I thought Bob Blizzard was taking on a lot!”

    Ah, old Bob; he used to be be a councillor for the Birmingham Snow Hill ward.

    Christmas cracker jokes arriving 5 months early!


  24. @Roger M and others in the know
    Is there any sense that some of those returning candidates may not be so popular. I always think you have to keep winning in order to win next time. (!)

  25. I think bill is right though…the campaigning strength and membership do give a feel for the historic strength of the parties and their prospects for the future.

    The union link has always been the lifeblood of the Labour party…the unions more or less created the party back in 1900. They provide money, people and a good geographic spread, the latter two of which are a problem for the modern tories….

    the strength of the voluntary party made the tories a real force post 1950….even when they lost office, the tories could spring back, as they did in 1970 and 1979, both of which elections were strongly influenced, as I remember, by the strength of the tories’ ground operation.

    today, mass membership has died, so councillors are relatively much more important. Newark was exceptional for the Tories. It was a by-election in which the national party machine swung into action. What the party hasn’t done is create regional campaigning teams….a councillor from Kensington will have less empathy with and knowledge of the issues in a marginal midlands seat than another councillor who, although not directly local to the seat, is only 20 miles down the road.

    The Kensington councillor cannot spend much time in a seat like Nuneaton, for example. Anecdotally, voters don’t really like being telecanvassed by people who are clearly not local. Posh tories calling up folk in a seat like Wolverhampton SW doesn’t work that well….

    The tories as crossbat II observed, were particularly good at this in the 60s, 70s and 80s…some time after 1990, the local organisation began to fall apart, and the tories, arguably, have not found anything to replace it.

    I agree that the mass party is dead forever, but with modern technology, I am surprised that no one has really cracked a modern replacement, a “virtual” equivalent, so to speak.

  26. Of course if the campaign is as ineffective at changing minds as some research has suggested it won’t matter who has the most foot soldiers.

  27. The campaign itself doesn’t change minds, really. But the campaign (or the short campaign to be precise) is only a small part of campaign. The long campaign of up to three years is much more important.

  28. given that the election will probably be decided in about 50 marginal seats, having about 14 ex MPs recontesting the seats they represented until May 2010 is significant.

    Labour (assuming they hold most of their current seats and get 10 seats off the liberals) only need about 25 seats off the tories to get to 290+ seats, which will probably be enough to become the largest party, so 14 ex-MPs fighting tory incumbents for their old seats is no small thing…

    on current polling, a large number of these defeated MPs could make their way back.

  29. @Roger Mexico

    “Oops copy and paste error just spotted. That should be:
    Rob Marris (Wolverhampton SW)”

    I could have told you that earlier, if I hadn’t been out door knocking with him this afternoon.

  30. RogerH,

    “Of course if the campaign is as ineffective at changing minds as some research has suggested it won’t matter who has the most foot soldiers”

    tell that to a candidate who has lost a seat by 300 votes out of 50,000!!! many have even narrower margins of victory.

    I think some people on this website are very naive about how politics actually is conducted in this country.

  31. I can’t actually believe some of the stuff I read on here….

    it’s not just the campaign, it’s what can be called the local footprint…

    there isn’t a country in the western world, where “foot soldiers” aren’t very important….ask the guys on the Obama 08 campaign whether it matters “who has the most foot soldiers”…in britain, with relatively much smaller amounts being spent on campaigns, TV ads etc., foot soldiers are probably even more important.

  32. “I can’t actually believe some of the stuff I read on here….”

    What don’t you believe? That the research findings exist? No good just accusing people of naivety because you prefer your own anecdotes.


    True. Can’t disagree with that. It’s something the LibDems are past masters at (but which may now really be ‘past’ for them).

  34. Well, the foot soldiers can and are on telephones nowadays. That’s why the Conservatives, in particular, don’t need them so much.

    In my area, they have banks of telephonists who just ring people up.

    The assembly of who has to be rung up is done of course much earlier. Indeed it has already been done.

    The problem is for the Conservatives that it just produces big majorities in areas they were going to win anyway (see last election).

  35. “In its summer update of its World Economic Outlook forecasts, the IMF says it expects the UK economy will grow 3.2 per cent in 2014 and 2.7 per cent the following year, the best combined performance of any large advanced economy.
    This forecast upgrade – the fifth successive quarterly upward revision from the fund – shows the IMF is more optimistic about UK prospects than the Office for Budget Responsibility and the average of independent forecasts for both 2014 and 2015. Only the Bank of England expects even faster growth.”


  36. Most recent academic research suggests that constituency campaigning does make a difference – I posted up a couple of links earlier in the week here to stuff by David Denver, Justin Fisher, David Cutts, etc at the last two elections.

  37. Shev11,
    I forgive you of course,especially as I live in Wales but am in fact English.

  38. I can’t believe it, because it’s very naive to believe one academic study which says that a 5 week campaign doesn’t work, when all the experience of nearly 100 years of democracy in most developed countries suggests the opposite.

    If it didn’t work why do you think thousands of activists bother?

    Why did Obama spend millions of dollars on get out the vote operations and local volunteers, if “foot soldiers” didn’t matter?

    I am afraid it beggars belief that a contributor to a website like this can actually believe it doesn’t make a difference whether local activists are campaigning in an area or not?

  39. Ooh the average has been updated. Seems the Tories still having trouble getting over the 32-33 hump.

  40. @Howard
    “Well, the foot soldiers can and are on telephones nowadays. That’s why the Conservatives, in particular, don’t need them so much.”

    You can’t use phones to contact the majority who are ex-directory though. My impression is that the Conservatives’ main thrust nowadays is in the form of bulk direct mail to just about everyone, delivered by post, which is fine if you have oodles of cash to pay for it.

  41. Phil H
    My point was that it worked fine in areas where Con voters were ‘clubbable’. What goes on in not particularly affluent urban areas I haven’t a clue. In my areas, you can guess who’s Con just by the front garden and just follow up, not that a Con canvasser would need to operate so crudely..

    My point was that in such areas, Con win, but just by a larger majority than is needed.

  42. Anthony, you’ve missed the latest TNS-BMRB poll from your latest VI and UKPR polling average sections.

    [I have, it’s because they don’t bother to ask about the Green party – hence if I put it in it would bugger up the average. I’ll have to add them in once it’s 20 days old – AW]

  43. Howard
    “Where Conservative voters were clubbable .”

    Wot , like baby seals ?

  44. Floating Voter,
    Too appalling for words.Surely this cannot be true.

  45. Far too nice a day to have spent time on the net!

    However, to pick up up a couple of points about “systems” from earlier posts.


    “In what way is England a ‘system’? ”

    It’s a ‘system’ in 2 ways.
    1. It’s the only part of the UK where no aspect of Parliamentary domestic governance is handled outwith Westminster. The “voters of Carlisle and Carshalton [should] be grouped together” because the legislation governing, for example, education, local government, NHS is decided at Westminster. In Cardiff, Carnoustie and Cookstown MPs have no role. Carlisle and Carshalton are, therefore, politically united with each other, and not with those “c”s that I allude to.

    2, In the terms that Bill Patrick was posting about then – the number and identity of parties that are available for the casting of votes by the electorate.. I don’t disagree with Bill’s use of the term in that way. It is perfectly valid – just his application of the term “UK” to it.

    Bill Patrick

    “One would expect that parties that limit themselves to particular parts of the UK would limit their importance within the system.”

    I wholly agree with you. But then you are now using the term “system” in a different way from previously.

    If you are now using “system” as referring to the product of a UK GE, then such is obviously the case. Any “importance” they have at Westminster will be limited in precisely the same way as minor parties within the UK (actually English) “5-party system” that you earlier referred to.

    The English political unit is important for itself. The future of England’s schools, universities, NHS and local government are important for those living there. I don’t understand why its value as a political unit is so frequently ignored – as is the dominance of that unit within the wider “system” of the UK.

  46. “In my areas, you can guess who’s Con just by the front garden and just follow up…”


    Not having ever canvassed naturally I am given to ask: so what does the prototypical Tory garden look like? Gnomes? Wisteria? Duck Houses?…

    What’s a floating voter’s garden like? They could use Google street view to identify prospects!!…

  47. @ Floating Voter/ Ann in Wales

    Isis have released statements saying that it is not true; that their religion does not require FGM; that the document is a photo-shopped forgery & that the UN has not investigated properly before commenting on this fake document.

  48. Amber,
    I do so hope that they are telling the truth.Please.

  49. Amber Star

    @”Isis have released statements saying that it is not true; that their religion does not require FGM”

    I suppose we should be grateful for small mercies :-


  50. @ Ann in Wales

    Me too!

1 4 5 6 7