New party leaders normally enjoy a honeymoon in the polls. It’s noticeable for leaders taking over in opposition, on the relatively rare occassion that the party leadership changes hands in government the honeymoon is often remarkable. In the last fifty years there have been three previous occasions when the premiership changed hands between-elections:

  • Wilson-Callaghan, 1976. When Harold Wilson announced his resignation in the middle of March the polls were showing a Conservative lead of between two and five points. The polls immediately following Wilson’s resignation and during Callaghan’s first month in office showed Labour leads of between one and seven points, before returning to a steady Tory lead in May.
  • Thatcher-Major, 1990. Margaret Thatcher was famously removed by the Tory party in November 1990. In the month before the leadership election Labour had an average poll lead of thirteen points. In the month immediately following her resignation and replacement by John Major the Conservatives had an average lead of five points, peaking at 11 points. Over the next few months the polls settled down to an average Tory lead of four points or so.
  • Blair-Brown, 2007. The Blair-Brown handover was a more drawn out affair: Blair announced his resignation at the start of May 2007, when the Conservatives had a poll lead of around six points, and actually handed over to Gordon Brown at the end of June. Through July and August Brown enjoyed an average Labour lead of around five points, peaking in double-digit leads during the Labour conference at the end of September… and their rapid collapse afterwards. The Conservatives were ahead again by October, and remained so for the rest of the Parliament.

Every mid-term change of Prime Minister has been accompanied by a significant boost in polling figures – in the three historical cases, they’ve gone from trailing the opposition to a clear polling lead. The boosts have tended to be comparatively short though – Callaghan and Major only enjoyed a month or so before settling down into a new equilibrium, Brown enjoyed a honeymoon that lasted several months, but that was probably because he was seem to have responded well to the Glasgow Airport attack and Summer floods. There’s no clear pattern as to where the polls settle after the honeymoon: I suppose it depends very much on the leader. Once the honeymoons had passed the change in leader didn’t make that much difference in 1976 and 2007 (in both cases Labour’s position absolutely tanked a few months down the line… but for different reasons), in 1990 though there was a long lasting improvement in Tory support.

So to the current polling position. Today’s ICM poll has topline figures of CON 43%(+4), LAB 27%(-2), LDEM 8%(-1), UKIP 13(-1) (tabs are here). It follows on from an ICM poll last week showing the Conservatives ten points ahead, a YouGov poll giving the Conservtives an eleven point lead and an Opinium poll giving them a more modest six point lead. All four polls had Labour around or just below 30% and the Conservatives nearer 40%, UKIP down a little from the levels of support they’d been showing before the referendum.

Viewed together it certainly looks like the sort of boost a new Prime Minister normally receives, which is a good reason not to read too much into it. New Prime Ministers receive good poll ratings because they haven’t had to annoy too many people yet – the public can project their hopes onto them and convince themselves they really will be different, really will deliver this, that or the other. Before long, however, the shine will come off and they’ll have to start making compromises and disappointing people. This is one good reason for Theresa May not to plan for an early election (and the mistake Gordon Brown made in not shutting down such considerations) – the current polls look wonderful for her, but on past timescales they won’t necessarily be so rosy in a couple of months time. It’s also a crumb of comfort for Labour… though quite a small crumb.

UPDATE: YouGov have fresh voting intention figures that also show a strong lead for the Conservatives, albeit, not quite as big as ICM’s. Their topline figures are CON 40%, LAB 28%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 13%, GRN 4%. Tabs are here

846 Responses to “Leadership honeymoons and ICMs latest poll”

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  1. Suggestions along the lines of the Telegraph/Mirror pieces are not new. I first read about the idea of the PLP electing a new leader of the opposition and acting as a Parliamentary party within the LP, in a January. It was an article by Joe Haines, Wilson’s right hand man:

    However, it would be career suicide for most of the MPs who chose that path. Perhaps 4y of ‘taking their party back’ might be worth it for some but it is difficult to imagine the necessary 117 MPs following suit.

    Actually, Joe Haines wrote a similar piece calling for the removal of Ed Miliband in November 2014. He said in that article that Ed Miliband’s suggestion that the LP could have a mass membership of 400k was totally ridiculous :)

  2. Rich

    Actually Sturgeon and the SNP leadership have been very cautious about pushing for a second IndyRef – despite demands from some activists. Partly because they are waiting for better polling figures[1] and those haven’t shifted much. But also because until the whole Brexit situation is resolved some more, no one really knows what is on offer – from either Yes or No. Polling suggests that a lot of ordinary voters in Scotland feel the same.

    [1] As Barbazenzero points out the actual electorate is a little more Indy-friendly than YouGov’s sample would be (because of the inclusion of 16-17 yearolds and EU nationals), but that won’t add a big safety margin, as both groups are less likely to vote or be registered. Though EU nationals (perhaps 150K) might do so dependent on EU futures on offer.

  3. @RM

    There are all sorts of possibilities as to why there was one official and 3 unofficial candidates. Maybe there really was a shortage of willing candidates and the “independent” ones were only found at the last minute. Or maybe only one of the Momentum-acceptable candidates was qualified.

    The unofficial candidates got 40% fewer votes than the official one. In my experience the maximum personal vote is usually no more than 10%. And since these were mostly new candidates (by-election for vacant seats), it seems highly unlikely that there was that much of a personal vote. It is quite likely that the unofficial status of 2 candidates cost Labour seats (also the failure to stand a fourth candidate – in a multi seat election failure to stand a full slate almost always damages the chances of the remaining candidates) .

    Given that a prime purpose for local parties to exist is to get Labour representatives elected, the suspicion that this was not just a benign cock-up is not unreasonable. It’s quite possible that finding willing candidates is difficult, but it needs to be investigated.

  4. Roger Mexico

    “As OldNat has done his usual late night thing of quoting from the tables without linking”

    There’s a good reason for that – on this tablet, I don’t know how to link to a pdf document. I can see it (in a different window) but not the URL.

    If anyone can suggest how to provide the link, I’d happily do it.

  5. Syzygy

    What amazes me is the low low standard of Journalism we seem to be able to tolerate. That media outlets are willing to publish these threats of a split etc without investigating the practical difficulties in more than an off hand way.

    Even to a neutral thinking person some questions must spring to mind, for instance

    Are there really that many MPs prepared to split?
    How united are the Rebels?
    How many of the members can they bring with them?
    Where will the funding come from?
    If the majority of funding comes from corporate backers how will that look to left leaning voters?

    Accepting this threat at face value indicated that either the media isn’t neutral or that the media is incapable of intelligent thought or possibly both

  6. RM

    I may have found a way – via checking the Properties of the link to the pdf

    Does it work? I’ll find out when I press Submit.

  7. Nope. Doesn’t work. :-(

  8. Oldnat

    Delegating is the key to success and its even better when you can delegate with only a nudge. I think RM was being uppity with his remarks about you not posting the links. Its your job to direct and point out interesting polls, its his job to provide the links.

  9. @ CRach

    ‘Accepting this threat at face value indicated that either the media isn’t neutral or that the media is incapable of intelligent thought or possibly both’

    Good summary… I wonder if this a strand of the sort of psych ops that Adam Curtis analysed in ‘Oh Dear’ ?

  10. @ OldNat

    You can put your finger on the link for a while, and one of the options that appears should be “copy”.

    Then you can paste it in the comment though I quite liked @ CambridgeRachel’s innovative management recommendations.

  11. Good afternoon all from the rather hot and humid People’s (Socialist) Republic of London (suburban rather than central district).

    Whilst removing a large amount of bindweed from my garden earlier today I was reflecting on last night’s Newsnight report on the Labour Leadership election. They were highlighting the point that the split between support for Smith and Owen was reflective of the referendum result. If this is true the fallout from the result (which ever side wins) could me more damaging for Labour’s long-term prospects than I for one first feared.

    If the party is split regionally, this makes a breakaway party more viable (from either side). You could have a party emerging in the south / south-east that would be not to dissimilar to the Democratic Party in the US. Socially liberal, pro-Europe, pro-immigration with support from similar demographic to the Democratic Party. This party would be strongest in areas with a high percentage of ethnic minority voters.

    In the rest of the country you could have the emergence of the Momentum / rump Labour Party – who would probably retain the Labour brand and name (assuming Corbyn wins). Both parties would be viable due to FPTP – they would overlap in the midlands where you would see the Tory’s picking up seats due to the split n the centre left.

    Ironically this could then see an exact reverse of what happened over 100 years ago, this time with the Labour Party seeing itself relegated to a minor party, as its traditional core base continues to shrink due to a number of long-term social and economic reasons.

    If this was to happen this would support the theory that from an historical perspective, the Labour Party was very much a product of the C20, which couldn’t adapt to the changes of the C21. I really do feel for future students of history who might have to write essays comparing the strange death of Liberal Britain with the strange death of Labour Britain.

  12. Laszlo & Cambridge Rachel

    Thanks for the help and advice.

    Roger may just be a little miffed at Trump’s proposal to build a wall round him. :-)

  13. success!

  14. @ CambridgeRachel

    Are there really that many MPs prepared to split?
    How united are the Rebels?
    How many of the members can they bring with them?
    Where will the funding come from?
    If the majority of funding comes from corporate backers how will that look to left leaning voters?

    As to the last two questions, Save Labour spent probably a couple of thousand quid on social media advertising. It cannot be much more – you will [not] find it in some MPs’ expenses.

    The first three questions are very good, but then it would involve talking to these people rather than just taking off record stuff.

    Actually Owen Jones has An interesting interview with Nandy on YouTube. She cannot contextualise, and while she comes across honest, and likeable, the post hoc rationalisation narrative is pretty obvious.

    Owen Smith is up here in Liverpool today, apparently in a pub giving a speech. It is not a very good pub (unless it has changed in the last three years), but it does indicate something about the expected size of the audience.

  15. @Redrich

    “Labour Party was very much a product of the C20, which couldn’t adapt to the changes of the C21.”

    It is possible. C. Lasch advanced a similar argument about the US 40 odd years ago (The Agony of the American Left).


    I link to the YouGov article in the 1st post on p17, which has an onward link to the tables and worth a read itself.

    James Kelly also has a piece on it here, recently updated.

    As Barbazenzero points out the actual electorate is a little more Indy-friendly than YouGov’s sample would be (because of the inclusion of 16-17 yearolds and EU nationals), but that won’t add a big safety margin, as both groups are less likely to vote or be registered. Though EU nationals (perhaps 150K) might do so dependent on EU futures on offer.

    Agreed re any safety margin, and perhaps a registration campaign is needed during the wait to see what the Brexit proposals actually turn out to be.

    Also, the Westminster franchise includes expat Scots inside the window of entitlement [unlike me], who can still vote for Westminster. I seem to recall their being said to be staunchly unionist although I don’t recall actual polling of them.

  17. Laszlo

    Why aren’t you getting some of the free ice cream that Eoin tells us is available at the Owen Smith rally in Liverpool?

  18. Smith changed the venue from the pub to open air (the weather is nice).There were apparently about a hundred people, and the ice cream was free (@ CambridgeRachel’s point about funding is now serious) to everyone.

  19. @ OldNat


  20. @Laszlo,

    Have to admit to only having a passing knowledge of Lasch, my own research in that areas was concerned with US views on British socialism and UK left views on the US (which change over time). If I remember Lasch was linked to the revisionist Cold War hisotrians of the 60’s. Will refresh my knowledge.

    On another point, whilst gardening I was also thinking on further comparisons between Japan and the UK. If Trump wins and we see a move away from free trade to protectionism, then the UK like Japan will both be large economies sitting outside of regional trade blocs.

  21. Cambridge Rachel,

    In economics, the term ‘inflation’ is usually used to refer to rises in the prices of goods & services, rather than assets like housing or shares. I was using it in this sense.

    I think it’s a very big exaggeration to say that these are almost the exclusive targets of any government or central bank in any country, and especially all of them in the world.

    Also, what home-owners and shareholders like is a rise in the real value of their assets, which can increase even if the price of them doesn’t change e.g. if everything else is getting cheaper.

  22. @Laszlo

    I think Owen’s events reflect that he is targeting the media, not the audience. There is minimal campaigning value in having a large meeting attended by 100s of adoring fans if that event is not reported in a way that achieves your specific objectives.

  23. You could argue that Labour has already pulled off a fantastic job in the 1980s/1990s, in terms of surviving the decline of trade unionism, the disrepute in planning, and demographic factors that have made the welfare state increasingly expensive. All of those were huge challenges for a nominally trade unionist, socialist, and social democratic party to overcome. It would not be surprising if they can’t continue to surmount such challenges.

    However, it still stuns me how a party can go from being so disciplined in 2010-2015 and then nearly fall apart in just 12 months. Was Miliband really THAT much of a political genius? Were Labour held together by hope provided by misleading opinion polls? I have no idea.

  24. @ Robin

    You could be right. Corbyn’s York outing wasn’t reported, while Smith’s was (but I already forgot where it was).

    However, it doesn’t seem that Smith is doing the media particularly well judging from the Echo.

  25. Robin

    The Politics piece that others linked to earlier explained that the reason for no candidate standing for South Hams was that no one put themselves:

    the candidate who stood the October by-election and also in May (Eleanor Cohen) is the current Mayor of Totnes and presumably both busy and being impartial.

    Given that they couldn’t find anyone for that at first, it’s unlikely they could find a full slate for the Town Council. In any case Parties rarely put up full slates for Town or Parish Councils anyway – even if they could find enough, it doesn’t seem to be the ‘done thing’. It’s a sort of informal version of PR. If the Greens had put up a fourth candidate I doubt any Labour candidate would have been elected.

    But personal votes matter with such councils (that’s why so many Independents get elected to them) and it could well that Barker was better known than the other two who were also presumably new to politics. As I said before, not having the label may have made a small difference, but not enough to win any extra seats.

    Re age analysis of indyref1, Prof. C.’s article So How Many 16 and 17 Year Olds Voted? of 2014-12-16 is quite good albeit some of the links no longer work [the EC one does work].

    For a decent abeit Janet & John version of various demographics, the Record’s Independence referendum figures revealed of 2015-03-26 is also useful.

  27. @ Redrich

    The US economy could live on its own, and has firm specific advantages beyond the dreams of any other country. So, it could (the memory of the 1950s and early 1960s when they had a quasi monopoly is fading, so firms and politicians would have to work against a much lighter benchmark).

    And they have such labour market, and financial institutions that could exploit such a foreign trade strategy easily (as you said, like Japan back it the 1970s and 1980s).

  28. @RM

    As I said, it could all be innocent.

    It’s not obvious what would have happened with official candidates/full slate, but IMHO it is almost certain that a lot of the green vote was from Labour supporters using their full 4 votes. Most of the electorate doesn’t understand that doing this effectively nullifies your vote for the one candidate you really do support, as you cancel the one vote for your preferred candidate with votes for other candidates.

  29. @ Redrich

    Lasch was a social commentator really. In any case, while some of his theoretical points flirt with Marxism, he wasn’t a Marxist.

    He is probably the most famous for the Culture of Narcissism. His post humus book (the revolt of the elites) is a really angry condemnation of the liberal elite.

    The Agony of the American Left is a collection of four very thoughtful essays published by Pelican. I particularly like the street theatre one, but he wrote about the social changes that should have created a more effective organisation on the left to replace the institutions of organised labour, but came up with transient and ineffective protest movements. He wrote these in the 1960s and 1970s.

  30. @Roger M
    ‘ But then Cornwall mainly exists to make Devon people feel they’re not that odd after all’

    There was a fascinating post on this site last year, which showed genetic variations across the UK. There was surprising homogeneity, and the most interesting bit was evidence of a huge French invasion about 8000 years ago, that was previously unknown. They went all the way up to Scotland in large numbers.

    But the only exception to the genetic evenness of Britain was Devon and Cornwall: not only were they distinct from the rest of the country, but they were also distinct from each other. The distribution pattern was very close to the county boundaries.

    For some strange reason I have since felt happier about being different from the Cornish, than from the rest of you.

  31. I wasn’t being ‘uppity’ :p, but OldNat does tend to make these cryptic late night remarks that imply he’s looked at the tables. I know where they are but others might be confused.

    Though I did wonder if it was device-related – hence my ‘late night’ qualification. Anyway he now knows two ways to do it because the 3:37 link seems to work for me on a desktop.


    This seems to prove my belief that the Scottish independence support is as soft as marshmallow. There is no mass movement towards Scottish independence and the referendum will be remembered as the high water mark of the independence movement.

  33. “Both Corbyn and John McDonnell have explicitly rejected Parliament as a means through which to secure significant change. In an interview with Vice in April last year, McDonnell – sitting next to Corbyn – stated: “You can’t change the world through the parliamentary system.” He continued: “Getting political representation is important, but change comes through using direct action, campaigning, and trade unions.” Corbyn agreed: “Get involved in campaigns, in a union, with the peace movement, get involved with Occupy & UK Uncut”; before adding as an afterthought: “and also be in a political party.”

    from Joff Wild’s thread on pb.

    I really don’t understand why Corbyn’s lot are upset about the PLP.

    Corbyn & the PLP have quite different ideas on the relevance & purpose of Parliament.

  34. Tancred

    If you care to define what level of activity, support, etc would constitute a “mass movement” (in any sphere of political activity) in your opinion, then we might be able to assess your claim.

  35. @Colin

    I fully agree with those that think our Parliamentary system cannot be an agent to bring about significant change. It’s stuck in it’s self importance and bygone traditions.

    I think about the big social changes in my lifetime (I was born in the early seventies). Parliament has not led these changes, but long after society has accepted change Parliament belated changes laws to suit.

    A current example of something where Parliament is way behind the curve is assisted dying. It’s quite clear to me as many people have experiences of elderly relatives being hollowed out and turned into husks by dementia and terminal diseaeses. The status quo (legally) is hopelessly inadequate. Yet Parliament finds reasons to not accept the change that society (in my view) wants. In time new laws with improve things, but decades late for some people.

    One of my very favourite films is ‘V for Vendetta’. The final scene is just amazing and I increasingly think it might be a good fresh start for us.

  36. LASZLO

    I read it.

    Not too much “nuance” in this :-

    ““. Earlier in the evening, I’d been handed a copy of “The Left Platform”, a policy document that the left of the party are pushing as they head into the election. The headlines are radical – on tackling the deficit, an end to austerity, calls for a wealth tax, a minimum wage of £10 an hour and the nationalisation of public services.
    According to McDonnell, this has the backing of a bloc of “30 to 40 MP’s.” The demands are there to set the debate, he explained, “but it will ultimately come down to what people are willing to vote for.” Could this be a threat to Mliliband?
    “I think what we’re trying to say to the Labour front bench is, ‘don’t ignore the left – we’re here’. When it comes down to certain issues, if this a Government thinking it’s going to implement austerity, with our support, they’ve got another thing coming,” said McDonnell.
    McDonnell is hopeful of a small Labour majority, and with the numbers they say are on board, they could fuck things up for a Miliband government that pursued austerity – refusing to vote for their policies, effectively meaning Miliband wouldn’t have a majority. That could potentially bring down their leader – it’s quite a threat.
    “It’s not a threat”, according to McDonnell, “it’s a statement of fact.”

    A case of the biter bit now it seems.

  37. LASZLO

    There is no nuance at all-the threat to Miliband is explicit , given a thin majority.

  38. CMJ

    I am familiar with your views.

    I could could hardly disagree more with you.

    In absence of Parliamentary Democracy-majority decisions of public representatives elected for limited terms of office-you have the Rule of The Mob.

    Any New Messiah with a good story and a Social Media Manager holds the rest of us to ransom.

    Its not a system which holds any appeal for me.

  39. CMJ

    Replied to you-in profound disagreement. It was moderated for some inexplicable reason.

  40. Actually, reading that Vice article for the second time, more carefully, I would recommend it to anyone who wants to understand some aspects of the troubles in the LP.

    It is a political philosophy – one may disagree with – that is actually quite 21st century. It is possible that these two people are not the best to represent it, but it’s neither here nor there.

    They actually don’t deny the role of Parliament, they just say that it is not enough, connecting formal politics with direct action, and they identify two roots one in the past and one in the present (the recession and its aftermath).

    They also think in terms of networks, which is quite correct for these fluid organisations, although they incorrectly underplay the relationship between leaders and followers. Well, not now, however.

    It also seems to be a highly intuitive politics – both advantages and disadvantages shown and seen. They probably want a wee bit more formalisation now.

    There is a kind of perception – apologies for paraphrasing Mao, and I have no intention to call either of them Maoist – that they are the fish swimming in the water of the various movements.

    All these could be completely wrong, they could be completely incompetent, but the insight into the social changes and social organisations is undeniable.

    This seems to prove my belief that the Scottish independence support is as soft as marshmallow.

    You may be right, but it is inherently a phony war just now, given that there have still been no more than hints of what the Brexit plan may be.

    Meanwhile, all parties at Holyrood are doing their best to figure out with a panel of experts a way of remaining in the EU via the Greenland, HK or other models. But they won’t become relevant until the A50 trigger is pulled, which may of course never happen.

    When it has been pulled, agreement or otherwise will be needed both from the EU and Westminster. Any negative EU response to either possibility will probably kill it off.

    That then leaves Westminster, who would have no valid reason to oppose a reverse Greenland solution but probably would be less keen on an HK model. Either solution could obviate separate NI & Gibraltar solutions, but that’s up to Westminster.

    Should Westminster rather than the EU reject any such solution, the battleground would be greatly clarified to everyone.

  42. @Colin

    I genuinely hope to read your full response :-)

  43. Just wondering, could May call Sturgeons bluff publicly on a second referendum given the weak polling figures and, as you mention above, ‘marshmallow’ soft support.

  44. Rich

    Yes she could if she was feeling suicidal with the UK economy

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