I haven’t paid much attention to the voting intention polls over recent months since without a Leader of the Opposition party politics are in a bit of a limbo. When people say how they would vote in a general election tomorrow, are they imagining a an election with Michael Howard as the alternate Prime Minister, or David Cameron or David Davis? It doesn’t really matter, since very little of interest has happened to the polls since the general election anyway – the Conservatives have stayed around the 33% they received in the election, Labour have remained a couple of points above their election performance, and the Lib Dems a couple of points below. This month’s YouGov poll has one of the first significant changes in the levels of party support – the topline figures are CON 35%(+3), LAB 37%(-3), LD 20%(+1).

It’s too early to ascribe any real meaning to this – it is as yet only one survey, and it could just be a rogue poll – after all, a Populus poll back in September showed a similar Tory advance, before they fell straight back again the next month. However, the underlying figures in YouGov’s poll do suggest that the Conservative party are turning a corner.

Looking at the rest of YouGov’s monthly figures, on the Best Prime Minister question, where Michael Howard has now been replaced by David Cameron and David Davis, Tony Blair has only a 6 point lead over David Cameron, compared to a 21 point lead over Michael Howard in the last Blair/Howard/Kennedy poll and an 11 point lead over Howard at the election. On economic competence, Labour’s lead is down to 8 points compared to 22 points at the general election and, perhaps surprisingly given the Conservative party is in the midst of a leadership campaign, while both parties are seen as divided, more people think Labour is divided than the Tories (70% compared to 58%).

In a forced choice question between a Gordon Brown led Labour government and a David Cameron led Conservative government, Labour led by 9 points. This compares to a 17 point Labour lead on the equivalent question (between Howard/Conservative and Blair/Labour governments) at the time of the election.

YouGov also asked people if they thought the reputations of the Conservative and Labour parties were getting better or worse at the moment. Labour’s reputation was overwhelmingly seen as being on the slide – 72% thought it was getting worse, including 48% of Labour supporters. In contrast the Conservatives seem to be on the up – 41% thought their reputation was getting better, with only 10% thinking they were still on the slide. Even significant numbers of Labour (26%) and Lib Dem (35%) voters thought the Conservatives’ reputation was getting better.

Asked about the Conservative party’s chances of winning the next election, 57% thought they were improving at the moment. While this, predictably enough, included nearly all Tory voters, it also again included significant amounts of Labour (38%) and Lib Dem (48%) voters.

On the Labour leadership YouGov asked people a long list of questions about Tony Blair – while Blair was still seen as decisive, a winner and likeable as a person, on nearly every other count he came out badly – uncaring, not tough, ineffective, untrustworthy, not in charge and not willing to lsiten to reason. Perhaps more interestingly was how people thought a Brown premiership would compare – only 24% thought Brown would be an improvement, with 47%thinking it wouldn’t make much difference and 19% thinking he’d be even worse.

If anything the Conservatives have made more progress on the underlying figures than in voting intention – that said, it’s important to remember that the Labour party are still ahead of them on every count. What has changed is that the Conservatives are now trailing slightly less far behind and, perhaps more importantly, the momentum now seems to be with them.

YouGov also asked a few questions on topical political issues. On the relaxation of licencing laws – particularly in the context of whether they will make binge drinking better or worse – 46% thought the new law would make the problem worse, while 24% thought it would make things better.

Finally YouGov asked about the response to the murder of PC Sharon Beshenivsky. By a substantial 64% to 29% margin people did not want to see the police routinely carrying firearms – this is substantially higher than the last two times this questions was asked, perhaps because both those surveys were in the context of terrorism rather than general policing. A slight majority do still favour re-introducing the death penalty for murdering a police officer- 49% to 43%.

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