Election Briefing: Polls & Policy

7 Feb 2015

 

 With the widely reported milestone of '100 days until the election' behind us, the election campaign proper has begun with all the fervour you'd expect.


Polls released this week by Lord Ashcroft, Tory peer and philanthropist, have shown that on a constituency level, the SNP surge is real, and it's as big if not bigger than we thought. If repeated on polling day, Ashcroft's results would see the SNP take as many as 56 of Scotland's 59 Westminster seats, with Labour holding two, and the Liberal Democrats holding two.


Furthermore, the results would see both Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander and Chief Secretary of the Treasury Danny Alexander lose their seats, representing a huge blow to the front benches of the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties, respectively. 


 Crucially, the poll showed the Liberal Democrats losing their deposits in most of the sixteen constituencies polled, adding to a long list of lost deposits in by-elections since 2010. Nick Clegg has also been hit by a poll run by Survation on behalf of Unite, which showed that he may be set to lose his parliamentary seat if the results of the poll are repeated in May. The poll showed Labour leading in his Sheffield Hallam seat by 10%, and also showed the Liberal Democrats as having a lead of only 1% for second place over the Tories. Clegg dismissed the poll as "utter bilge" on his weekly LBC 'Call Clegg' show.


The Tory's Michael Gove has meanwhile warned of a labour-led "Frankenstein administration" bringing together the Labour Party and the SNP to form a "stitched-together government capable of causing great harm". However, many of the latest forecasts show that, even with the allowances made by Sinn Fein's 5 Westminster seats held in abstention, Labour and the SNP will not have enough seats between them to form a majority government.

 

In similarly unsettling news for the Opposition, several business leaders have recently criticised Labour's economic policy. Stefano Pessina, Chief Executive of Boots, said that if a future Miliband administration acted as they planned to in their policies, it would be "a catastrophe".  Miliband was quick to denounce the accusations, rebutting: "I don't think people will take kindly to be being lectured by someone who is a tax exile in Monaco".


Members of the Labour Party have also been pleased to see the Financial Times' cover on Thursday, highlighting the increase of big city fat cats amongst the ranks of Tory donors in the past five years. In the same week, the Financial Times used data from Populus/Hanover to create a graph showing  "Prime Minister sweepstakes", showing the various most likely governmental outcomes of this year's election. Miliband is most likely to be Prime Minister, according to the figures, but the Conservatives are marginally more likely to form a majority government.


National Voter Registration Day on Thursday saw political parties and organisations attempting to incite young people into registering to vote after changes to the voter registration system mean that as many as a million people may be "missing" from the electoral register. In a ploy to attract and engage with younger voters, Labour launched its online youth consultation, a four-minute online survey in which young voters are asked what issues matter to them, whether they are likely to vote, and how engaged they are with politics. Labour has also been careful to avoid the negative campaigning practices of which the Conservatives have been accused, with Chair of Election Strategy Douglas Alexander publicly rejecting the Tories' tactics of "falsehood, fear and smear" in favour of running a campaign "with four million conversations at its heart".


Support from younger voters is particularly important to Labour and other parties on the left including the Greens as repeated polls have shown that their support is far stronger amongst younger voters. The Green Party, polling at around 7% nationally, are joint first amongst 18-24 year-olds, and so they will be hoping to capitalise on the youth vote come 7 May.


Major policy makers and think tanks have also become increasingly active as the election nears, with the Institute for Fiscal Studies releasing a study which shows that Osborne's economic policies would entail Britain experiencing the largest fiscal cuts of 32 selected advanced economies over the next five years.


On the other side of the political spectrum, a joint report by the Fabian Society and CentreForum has suggested that Labour and the Liberal Democrats may have more common ground on which to form a post-election deal than previously anticipated. Respectively the "pet" think tanks of the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties, the report found only a few areas in which policies, where announced, are divergent. 


For all parties, gauntlets are being thrown down. Labour must tackle the SNP challenge in Scotland, and the business challenge in metropolitan England. The Liberal Democrats must fight to hold on to whatever bastions they still have. The Tories must tackle accusations of cosying up to the rich and powerful, and the SNP must ensure that it can cash in on its predicted success. With under 90 days to go - let the games begin. 

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