The Sunday Times has the first poll of voting intentions since the announcement of Tony Blair’s resignation. The YouGov poll has headline voting intentions, with changes from their last poll, of CON 38%(+1), LAB 34%(+2), LDEM 15%(-3). The poll was carried out between the 10th and 11th of May.

The 34% level of support is the highest Labour have achieved in a YouGov poll since last September, and that was the spike in support following Tony Blair’s final conference speech. You have to go back to before last year’s local elections before Labour were consistently above 33%.

Exactly what voting intention figures at the moment mean is difficult to say. The uplift in Labour support is presumably because of an uplift in Tony Blair’s popularity – it certainly doesn’t appear to be in response to Gordon Brown’s now practically inevitable accession to the leadership, since YouGov also asked how people would vote in an election after Brown became Labour leader and found the Conservatives at 42% to Labour’s 32%.

I’ve often pondered how people respond to opinion polls when the leadership of one of the main parties is in flux – are they imagining an election tomorrow with Blair staying on, or with Blair in situ but resigning in a few weeks, or with Brown already as PM? The sharp contrast in this poll between the normal figures and the figures with Brown certainly suggests that that people aren’t already answering the question imagining Brown as leader, but at some point the figures have to converge to some extent (though not entirely, since the very act of mentioning the party leaders’ names in the question changes the results to some extent). Realistically we aren’t going to have a firm idea of how the parties stand relative to one another until Gordon Brown has not only become Prime Minister, but – assuming he gets a boost in the polls from the surge of positive publicity his accession will envitably provoke – until his immediate honeymoon has died down.

Elsewhere in the poll YouGov found increasingly warm reactions towards Tony Blair now he is standing down. 49% of people thought that, overall, he had been a good Prime Minister, with 46% thinking he had been a poor PM. In his farewell speech in Sedgefield Blair said that he had always done what he thought was right – YouGov found that 66% thought this was true.

UPDATE – Lots more from the Sunday Times poll.

On the record of the last government, 37% of people think they are worse off than 10 years ago, with 34% of people thinking they are better off – so a slight net negative. On crime however 54% of people think they are more at risk compared to only 7% who think they are safer. 58% of people think Britain is a worse place to live in, with only 17% thinking it has improved. People may well have warmer feelings towards Tony Blair now he is standing down, but their perceptions of how well Labour have delivered over the last ten years don’t seem to have improved.

On Gordon Brown, the Sunday Times highlighted that 50% of people thought he was unlikeable, with only 31% liking him. Actually the poll contained a few other questions which painted Brown in a more positive light. 49% thought he was principled, with only 24% thinking him unprincipled, and 46% thought him honest, compared to 26% who thought him mainly dishonest. This re-inforces the picture of Gordon Brown we normally find in polls – people think he is strong, competent, principled and efficient….they just don’t like him.

Finally, 51% of people said they thought Gordon Brown should call an immediate election after taking over. This is down compared to some of the overwhelming majorities picked up in previous polls and responses remain very partisan – 82% of Tories would like a general election, only 21% of Labour voters would. The “Brown as leader” hypothetical question reported in the Sunday Times was actualy asked in this context – how would people vote if Gordon Brown did call an immediate election – the full figures were CON 42%, LAB 32%, LDEM 13%. Most of the churn is actually people who said Labour or Lib Dem on the main voting intention question changing their intention or, more often, saying don’t know.


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