It is a rule of politics that you should never believe a single poll. Since there are many reasons why one poll, however well managed, can be wildly out of line with the real position, it is always better to look at trends. So last week’s YouGov poll, giving Labour a 15 point lead over the Conservatives, and leading strongly in London, the Midlands and the North, should be viewed with caution. However, it does fit with a long term trend, and it could be the beginning of a change of direction. So if it was true, what would it mean for our politics, nationally and in the Eastern region?
Should we believe it?
There is no reason to doubt YouGov’s methodology. They are among the most respected polling companies, bound by the principles of the British Polling Council, which ensures the quality and impartiality of opinion polling. They have been polling for many years, with 36 polls on voting intention this year. Overall, they have a good record of accuracy when tested against real election results, although they tend to give Labour slightly higher scores than other polling companies.
Their view of the trend is plausible. Like all polling companies, they have shown a Labour lead since early December, rising in July and August. On 1st August, Electoral Calculus, who analyse all polls, reported an average Labour lead in July of 9% (up from 5% in June).The most recent polls from Survation, Savanta ComRes and Ipsos MORI all show a Labour lead around 14 points.
So there is good reason to believe that the Labour lead is real and rising, possibly as dramatically as YouGov suggests.
Why is this happening?
The reasons for this are not hard to see. The Conservative party is in disarray. They have lost a disgraced Prime Minister and the campaign to succeed him is highlighting divisions, and damaging public perceptions of the Party. This is happening during an economic crisis, when the government can be accused of being asleep at the wheel. Meanwhile, the Labour Party have begun to get some attention for policy announcements.
Some in Labour see this as a turning point for the party. Keir Starmer recently described the party’s strategy to recover from its worst election defeat since 1935 in three stages. The first stage was to detoxify the party’s reputation (deserved or not) for extremism and antisemitism. The second was to demonstrate Conservative incompetence, well-illustrated by the scandals around Boris Johnson and the economic crisis.
The third stage, being launched now, is to propose a Labour alternative, of which the energy policy is the first high profile contribution. YouGov have found very high levels of support for this policy, gaining approval even from 75% of Conservative voters.
What would it mean in an election?
Most polls this year have suggested a hung Parliament after the next election. This would probably lead to a minority Labour government or coalition, since the Conservatives have few, if any, natural allies, and a progressive coalition of some form is possible.
The latest YouGov poll suggests something very different: a Labour landslide. If the YouGov swing were to be evenly distributed, Labour would win 388 seats: giving them a very comfortable absolute majority of 63. This is a larger majority than Boris Johnson achieved in 2019 (though smaller than all Tony Blair’s three majorities).
What would it mean in the East of England?
The chart shows how the YouGov 15% lead would affect the number of seats in the East. For comparison, we show a range of more modest Labour leads, alongside the actual 2019 result in both vote share and seat numbers.
In the East, the Conservatives would lose seven seats. All of these have been won by either Labour or LibDems at least once since 2001
|Constituency||Sitting MP||Change to|
|Norwich North||Chloe Smith||Lab|
|Welwyn Hatfield||Grant Shapps||Lab|
Until now the predictions have been of a hung Parliament, and a minority Labour government with LibDem and Green support. The new YouGov figures would transform this picture. In the East, the following seats would also fall.
|Constituency||Sitting MP||Change to|
|Hitchin & Harpenden||Bim Afolami||Lab|
|Hemel Hempstead||Mike Penning||Lab|
|Cambridgeshire South||Anthony Browne||LibDem|
|Cambridgeshire South East||Lucy Frazer||Lab|
|Hertford & Stortford||Julie Marson||Lab|
|Southend West||Anna Firth||Lab|
|Hertfordshire North East||Oliver Heald||Lab|
Furthermore, Harlow, Bedfordshire South West and Chelmsford would be too close to call. Of this second list, all except Thurrock (2005), Hemel Hempstead (2001) and Harlow (2005) have never returned a Labour or LibDem MP.
What chance of electoral reform?
Many progressives have hoped that a hung Parliament would create a progressive alliance committed to introduce proportional representation (PR), which has always been a major objective for the LibDems. This would not only ensure that every vote counts, but also that the voices of extreme factions (of right and left) would be less influential.
In 1997, there was an informal agreement between Labour and LibDems leaders that LibDems would support Labour in return for electoral reform. However, the scale of the Labour landslide in that election killed the idea. It is natural for a party that has just won a large majority to support the system that put them there, and under first past the post, Labour held its large majority for three elections.
The LibDems failed again in the 2010 coalition, when the Conservatives agreed to a referendum on a (not very representative) voting reform, but then campaigned against it.
The recent polling suggests that the LibDems and Greens will be a less significant force in the next election than many had predicted. There is a clear possibility that a Labour landslide on the scale YouGov suggests would lead to a repeat of 1997.
This result is unlikely
The YouGov poll suggests a landslide victory for Labour in the next election. This is conceivable: Labour achieved greater success three times under Tony Blair. However, there are many reasons to doubt that this will be repeated. The credibility of the Conservative party is probably at the bottom, and they are likely to benefit from a poll bounce when a new leader arrives. On the other hand, the winter promises to be devastating for many people, and they may well decide to blame the party which has been in power for 12 years.
However, Labour’s lead in the polls in recent months has rested more on large numbers of “don’t knows”, than on enthusiastic support. Their new programme of policy announcements has started well, but may not continue. It has come under attack from many voices calling for more radical ideas, and it may be derailed by events and a hostile press.
The LibDems and Greens face a real challenge. These figures suggest that tactical voting may not benefit them as much as it has done in recent byelections. If the LibDems gain only 7 seats and the Greens, none, they will be unable to exert much leverage over a Labour government.
The date of the next election is uncertain; the economy is in unprecedented territory; and life is about to get very much harder for most people. What that means for our politics is difficult to predict. Any incoming government will inherit a poisoned chalice of unprecedented economic and social challenges.
A Labour landslide is improbable but no longer inconceivable. One swallow doesn’t make a summer, but if other pollsters begin to report Labour leads over 10% we will need to revise many of our assumptions about future politics.