Tories take the Lead

Two new polls in the Sunday papers show the Conservative party in the lead for the first time since April.

The ICM and YouGov polls were conducted immediately after David Cameron’s election. YouGov’s topline figures, with changes from their poll for Sky News conducted immediately prior to Cameron’s victory, are CON 37%(+1), LAB 36%(nc), LD 18%(nc). ICM’s topline figures, with changes from their last monthly poll for the Guardian conducted in mid-November, are CON 37%(+4), LAB 35%(-3), LDEM 21%(+2). While there is no significant change in YouGov’s poll, their last two polls were conducted when the media were treating Cameron’s victory as a foregone conclusion – if you go back six weeks YouGov too were showing an 8 point Labour lead.

There is, therefore, a pretty unambiguous Cameron boost. The important question is what happens next – it may be a purely temporary phenomenon, once the media circus dies down and some of the novelty rubs off Cameron the Conservative vote may well drop back down again. On the other hand it may be start of a permanent sea change – Tony Blair’s election as Labour leader in July 1994 saw Labour’s lead in Gallup’s monthly polls increase by almost 10% and, except for a downwards blip in October 1994, it pretty much stayed up thereafter.

There is also the question of Gordon Brown – voting intention figures 4 years from a general election are of little importance at the best of times, let alone when we know the sitting Prime Minister will probably change before the next election. ICM also asked a voting intention question asking how people would vote assuming that Gordon Brown was Labour leader – like YouGov’s poll earlier this week this showed Labour doing worse under Brown than under Blair; with Brown as leader voting intention would be CON 40%, LAB 37%, LD 18%.

Polls like this are purely hypothetical, but if polls continue to suggest that a Brown lead Labour party would fail to achieve a Commons majority, it will hardly ease Gordon Brown’s accession to Downing Street when Tony Blair does step down. YouGov’s poll also suggests that Brown’s reputation as Chancellor has plummeted in recent months. In recent years YouGov’s polls have consistently found that the overwhelming majority of people thought that Gordon Brown was doing a good job as Chancellor – his approval ratings have been consistently high – normally around +30 and, at the end of last year and earlier this year, +40 and +41. YouGov’s poll this week – conducted just after his announcement that his earlier growth figures were wrong – has Brown’s net approval rating down to only +4.

At this moment in time the Conservatives’ new leader seems to have given them a boost at just the time that the iron Chancellor’s reputation has begun to tarnish. In both instances though, it remains to be seen if it is a permanent change or purely a passing whim – if nothing else politics suddenly looks more interesting.

UPDATE – the newspaper reports are here and here. There are a few more interesting findings in them – David Cameron’s initial net approval rating from YouGov is +34 – that the third highest approval rating I can find for any Tory leader ever (the top two being John Major’s approval ratings during the Gulf War). It doesn’t signify much other than that he hasn’t done anything to annoy anyone yet.

ICM also asked abouit who should replace Blair as Labour leader once he stands down, Brown, or an unnamed younger leader. The public are evenly split, 41% to 42%. So far polls asking who should succeed Blair have always shown Brown to be far and away the most popular candidate, but this suggests that the reason is because there is no obvious younger alternative to Brown for opposition to focus upon. If one were to emerge Brown could potentially face a problem (in terms of public preference at least, Labour MPs or members are obviously a different matter). ICM also asked who people saw as Tony Blair’s natural sucessor – 46% said Brown, but 40% said Cameron.

Finally there is a BPIX poll in the Mail on Sunday which shows a continuing Labour lead – CON 37%, LAB 38%.

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