The Mail on Sunday has an ICM poll conducted in Crewe and Nantwich. Voting intention in the by-election is CON 43%, LAB 39%, LDEM 16%. This compares to the actual result at the last election of CON 33%, LAB 49%, LDEM 19%, and if repeated at the by-election would be a 10 point swing.

By-election polls in the past don’t have a particularly good track record. That may actually be because they have been done early in by-election campaigns, when actually voting intentions clearly do change decisively within the couple of weeks during a by-election. Either way, we shouldn’t expect this to be a very good prediction of what the final result of Crewe and Nantwich will be.

Does that mean the poll doesn’t matter? Not at all. As I’ve said before, in a by-election in a government held seat a lot of voters will be looking for the party that is best positioned to defeat Labour and punish the government. This poll suggests that party is the Conservatives and that they are alread in a very strong position to win it.

UPDATE: In Iain Dale’s report of the figures he says “I am told the by election figures were adjusted downwards to take account of large number of Labour don’t knows. If they stayed at home on polling day, the Tories would win by 13 points.” I assume that refers to ICM’s normal re-allocation of don’t knows to account for “a spiral of silence” amongst supporters of an unfashionable party, and the tendency for don’t knows who do vote to end up voting for their usual party. For it to change a lead of 13 points into one of 4 points though there must have been a vast proportion of Labour voters telling ICM they didn’t know.

Today’s YouGov poll was also reported as showing that any alternative Labour leader would perform even worse than Gordon Brown. YouGov gave respondents a list of other politicians and asked if people would be more or less likely to vote Labour in a general election if they were leader – all had a negative net score, with more people saying they would be less likely to vote Labour with them in charge than more likely.

I would be very dubious indeed about these questions for two reasons. Firstly there’s the question design – less or more likely doesn’t tell you that much. Many of the people who said they would be more likely to vote Labour with X in charge already vote Labour, so yes – having that person in charge might firm up their support but isn’t winning more votes. Many people who say they would be less likely to vote Labour with X in charge are already not voting Labour, so it may be driving them even further away, but since they aren’t voting Labour anyway it’s not necessarily much of a loss. If you must do questions like this, it’s better to ask people how they would vote if X, Y and Z were party leaders, giving alternative Labour leaders in different versions of the question.

Even then though (and I’d be amazed if some questions like that didn’t come along sooner or later), the questions would be pretty meaningless. Regular readers will remember the questions we had when Tony Blair was Prime Minister that asked how people would vote if Gordon Brown was leader. Back then I had to laden down the results with lots of caveats about people not being very good predictors of how they would react to future events and that, in practice, Brown would probably get a big boost upon being leader. In the event he did, but a few months later he was trailing in the polls in much the way those pre-Brown polls had predicted. Those were a special case though, since Brown had been a very prominent politician for the previous decade and the public knew him well and knew what he was like. It could have turned out very differently and Brown could have shown a completely different side of his personality as Prime Minister… he didn’t, he was the same Gordon Brown and people reacted in the way they thought they would. But the fact remains he could have surprised them.

In this case, with the possible exception of Jack Straw, none of the possible replacements for Brown are widely known by the public. YouGov took this into account to some extent in today’s poll by giving respondents the option of saying they didn’t know enough about each person (38% gave that response for James Purnell and Andy Burnham, 16% for David Miliband, 6% for Jack Straw), but the problem is really unsurmountable. People can’t say how their opinions would really change were Andy Burnham or James Purnell Prime Minister since they’ve little or no idea of who they are, what they are like or what on earth they would do or change as Prime Minister.

If Brown’s leadership starts to come under real pressure then expect more polls like this…but unless they are about very well known politicians treat them as just a bit of fun.


A new YouGov poll for the Sun tomorrow has topline figures, with changes from their last poll, of CON 49%(+5), LAB 23%(-3), LDEM 17%(nc). This is the first poll conducted wholly after both the local election results and Boris Johnson’s victory in London, though Populus’s poll was partially conducted after the mayoral results.

The 26 point lead is obviously in a different league to every poll that’s gone before, on a uniform swing it would produce a Conservative majority of 272 (though obviously, in the vastly unlikely event that such a lead occured at a general election all bets would be off and who knows what freakish result would actually occur). It’s the sort of lead that ICM – the only pollster whose figures from back in 1992-1997 are comparable to their figures today – was recording for the Labour party when the Conservative party was flat on the canvas back in 1995.

As ever, we need to be cautious about any poll that shows large shifts of support. This one is explicable – big election victories like the local elections last week often have a halo effect, the winner suddenly has the aura of victory about them, the loser the scent of defeat. Another good example are the polls from straight after the Lib Dem victory in the Brent East by-election back in 2003, when the aura of success about them briefly saw them leap to joint first place in the polls on 31%.

They soon fell back, and if that’s what’s going on here the Tories will fall back too; I personally find it hard to believe they’ll stay at quite this level anyway. Alternatively, the local election defeat may have been the trigger for a real change in public attitudes towards Labour, confirming an image of them as past it and ready to be kicked out.

A third possibility of course, is that this is just a freak result. Remember Populus’s poll earlier this week showed no such similar jump in the Tory lead. YouGov normally show the largest leads, so I doubt other companies will match the scale of this lead, but we’ll have to see if they show the same trend towards even larger Conservative leads.

UPDATE: The Sun says this is the lowest Labour have ever sunk in the polls since records began. Is it? As far as I tell it equals their lowest rating ever. There was also a Gallup poll in December 1981 that put them on 23%.

UPDATE 2: Seems it’s even lower than December 1981. Apparently that Gallup poll actually had Labour on 23.5%, so this really is the lowest since records began.

Populus’s monthly poll in the Times, with changes from their last poll (conducted for the Daily Mirror in the middle of last month), has voting intentions of CON 40%(nc), LAB 29%(-1), LDEM 19%(nc). The poll was conducted between the 2nd and 4th May (Friday to Sunday).

This is the first poll since the local elections and the mayoral election and is practically unchanged since Populus’s last poll, suggesting no obvious aura effect from the Conservative victory. That does not, of course, change the fact that the poll is awful for Labour. The Populus poll a fortnight ago was already Populus’s worst ever poll for Labour, and this is a point worse.

The rest of the poll has similarly awful news for the government. The Times concentrates on 55% of Labour voters agreeing that the party would do better if Brown made way for a “younger, fresher, more charismatic alternative” which seems to me a somewhat pointless question: would the party do better with a better leader? Well – er, yes, almost by definition they would.

Other findings are just as bad though – Gordon Brown’s average rating out of 10 has dropped to a frankly embarrassing 4.08, which as far as I can tell is the lowest any leader has ever recorded in the period Populus have asked this question – worse than IDS’s or Ming Campbell’s lowest scores. David Cameron’s meanwhile is up at 5.36, the highest Populus have ever recorded for a Tory leader. On the economy 40% now trust Cameron and Osborne most to deal with economic problems compared to 30% for Brown and Darling.

During the last week or so of the London mayoral election campaign when my attention was elsewhere there were also a couple of Scottish opinion polls, so here’s a catch up:

Westminster election

TNS System Three – CON 17%, LAB 39%, LDEM 10%, SNP 31%
YouGov – CON 17%, LAB 34%, LDEM 14%, SNP 30%

Scottish Parliament

Constituency vote
TNS System Three – CON 12%, LAB 31%, LDEM 11%, SNP 45%
YouGov – CON 13%, LAB 31%, LDEM 15%, SNP 36%
Scottish Opinion – CON 13%, LAB 33%, LDEM 10%, SNP 40%

Regional Vote
TNS System Three – CON 12%, LAB 29%, LDEM 12%, SNP 41%
YouGov – CON 13%, LAB 28%, LDEM 13%, SNP 37%

The YouGov poll has a range of other questions apart from voting intention. As one might expect given the high polling ratings for the SNP, there were positive ratings for the Scottish administration (net approval of plus 25) and Alex Salmond as first minister (net satisfaction of plus 20). In contrast Wendy Alexander had a net score for doing a good job of minus 39. The other two party leaders, Annabel Goldie and Nicol Stephen both had notably high don’t know ratings (39% and 45% respectively), suggesting people are largely unaware of what they are doing. Of those who did express and opinion, Goldie’s ratings were far better than Stephen’s (plus 21, as opposed to minus 1).

The Cameron effect doesn’t seem to be penetrating north of the border. 13% of respondents said they were more likely to vote Conservative with David Cameron as leader…but 14% said they were less likely. Questions like this aren’t perfect, since people may become more positive or negative towards a party because of the actions of the leader or the way he has changed the party, without ascribing the change directly to the leader himself – but the Westminister voting intention figures in the polls back up the finding, showing no significant increase in Tory support in Scotland since the last general election.

YouGov also asked where the blame lay in recent disagreements between Holyrood and Westminster. Respondents were pretty evenly split between thinking the arguments were being deliberated created by Alex Salmond to show London in a bad light and how Scotland would be better off independent (38%) and between blaming the Westminster government for being insensitive to Scotland’s needs (35%). The split was identical when respondents were asked if London was bullying the Scottish exective – 35% agreed, 38% disagreed.

On YouGov’s normal tracker question on how people would vote in a referendum on Scottish independence 59% said they would support the status quo, with 25% saying they would vote for independence. As we’ve discussed here before, different ways of asking this question show markedly different results, and YouGov’s question which specifies that voting no still retains the Scottish Parliament normally results in less support for independence, but compared to previous YouGov/Telegraph polls using the same wording, the balance of opinion is moving away from independence.