Sunday polls: Conservatives nose ahead in a volatile race

Still not brilliant news in Sunday’s polls for the Tories, but I would rather be in their shoes than Labour’s today: no momentum and the campaign (substance vs, erm, ‘the damned Tories’) is slowly disintegrating. Things are still holding up pretty well for the Lib Dems. And after last week’s wobble (as Clegg came into the frame) Cameron’s ratings seem to be heading north again.

If I were a Labour hack, one thing (amongst many) to worry about is not the polls themselves, but their historic pro Labour bias. Now it may be that several things are happening:

  • People no longer feel compelled to misrepresent their views to interviewees.
  • A significant number are now using the Lib Dems rather than Labour as cover for a vote they will cast for the Conservatives.
  • People have begun misrepresenting their intention to vote Labour by declaring for the Lib Dems.
  • Something else we will only discover on the morning of May 7th.

But something is on the shift, and it is not good for the current government. Ben Brogan’s argument suggests that no one, not the Tories, Labour nor even Lib Dems (who may find their sheer lack of capacity impose as much limits and the prejudicial limitations of FPTP for third parties), actually does know what’s going on, or where in Britain the most critical battlegrounds are likely to be:

…the Tories are now quietly confident of taking seats such as Carlisle, both Boltons, Barrow in Furness, Weaver Vale, Lancaster and Fleetwood, but also Hyndburn and (does this explain why we haven’t seen him on the trail?) Jack Straw’s Blackburn.

The Tories want to highlight their ambitions for seizing Labour marginals to distract us from the sweaty business of unseating Lib Dems. If they lose seats to the Lib Dems, can they gain enough from Labour to make up for it?

Phil Woolas (from the Lib Dems) and Ruth Kelly (from the Tories) are also under considerable pressure in Greater Manchester. But on the big night keep an eye on the West Midlands and Lancashire for critical changes: both of which provided vital Conservative swings back in 1979.

A final thought. According to the invaluable Electoral Calculus, the spread markets (which tend to have a smaller final bias error than the polls) is currently calling it like this:

CON:  312

LAB: 223

LIB DEMs: 83

NAT: 11

Such a result would have considerable local indications. Not least because with a Lab/Lib coalition comes in 5 seats ahead of the Tories, the DUP (and the Scots and Welsh Nats) could wield some considerable influence (with Gerry continuing to use the tradesman’s entrance at Number 10).

But there is some way to go. And spreads, notoriously, only become accurate in the last day or two.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty