EU Referendum

Brexit: for whom the bell polls


Considering for how long we've been told that the polls are notoriously unreliable, there are an awful lot of them about this weekend – and all but one pointing in the direction of a Tory victory.

Particularly chipper is the Sunday Telegraph which is parading the headline: "General election poll: Conservatives at highest level since 2017, survey shows".

This is a SavantaComRes poll and it puts the Tories on 41 percent (up one percent), with Labour taking 33 percent, albeit up three points. For the record, the Lib-Dems take 14 percent (down two), the Greens two (down one) while Farage's limited company reaches a new low with a paltry five percent, losing two points since 12 November.

But if the ST really wanted to crow, it should have gone for the Opinium poll, published yesterday. While SavantaComRes gives the Johnson a mere eight-point lead, he gets 16-points from Opinium, with the Tories standing at 44 percent, up three compared with last week, as against Labour on 28 percent, down one point.

Interestingly, this poll also has the Lib-Dems dropping one point, standing at 14 percent, with Farage's party level-pegging on six percent.

Even better would be The Sunday Times, which relies on YouGov for its polling. This puts the Tories on 45 percent (up three) and Labour static on 28 percent, the same as it was on 12 November. That gives the Tories a healthy 17-point lead.

On this poll too, the Lib-Dems haven't moved, showing 15 percent, and neither has Farage's limited company. For the moment, it has bottomed out at four percent. It just has to lose one more point to reach a milestone in its decline. That's when it will have dropped to ten percent of its European Election showing.

Returning to the Sunday Telegraph poll, which gives the Tories an eight percent lead, that paper's headline makes an interesting contrast with the Independent, which uses BMG poll data to back a headline declaring: "Labour cuts Conservatives’ poll lead to eight points".

This survey has the Tories on 37 percent, against 29 percent for Labour, allowing the paper to assert that Jeremy Corbyn's party has gained ground. It tells us that a series of big policy announcements helped Mr Corbyn’s party to dominate the agenda, while the Tories were forced onto the defensive over new figures revealing that A&E waiting times are the worst in almost a decade.

Nevertheless, Johnson appears to have the advantage in uniting "leave" voters behind him after Farage's vote has fallen away. Some 61 percent of leavers now say they will back the Tories, significantly up from the 48 percent showing last month. And this could increase: BMG has not yet accounted for Farage's party standing in less than half the seats.

Even now though, the Tories are doing better than Labour, Corbyn is also picking up more "remainers", currently collecting 40 percent of that vote. However, 28 percent go to the Lib-Dems, indicating that Corbyn has been unable to unite the anti-Brexit movement. For all that, there is some progress, as last month's figures were, respectively, 37 and 32 percent.

But, if that is the Independent "take", the Mail on Sunday puts itself firmly in the Tory camp, having Johnson "surge" ahead of Jeremy Corbyn. It also suggests that the Tories are tightening their grip on working-class voters, with 45 percent supporting them, against the 30 percent who would vote for Labour, as politics realigns on "leave" and remain" lines.

Here, we are dealing with a Deltapoll survey. This gives the Conservatives a 15-point lead, up from 12 points last week, giving them 45 percent of the vote, as against 30 percent for Labour. Deltapoll also claims to have picked up a slump in Lib-Dem support – down five to 11 percent.

As to the fate of Farage's limited company, the paper suggests that the "revolt" of the candidates – many of whom pulled out of contests rather than risk splitting the Tory vote in key marginals – has left the party marooned on six percent. Interestingly, the poll suggests most voters think Farage's political career is nearing its end: a total of 45 percent say his most successful days are behind him, and just 11 percent think they lie ahead of him.

Not so, Johnson, it would appear. Although the MoS is wary about making predictions, given the complexity of the planned voting patterns, it says that a uniform national swing in line with its poll figures could give Johnson a majority of 108. Stepping back from the bigger picture, though, the Observer has chosen to concentrate on three London marginals held by the Conservatives: Kensington, Finchley and Golders Green, and Wimbledon.

The paper claims that local polling in these constituencies shows a surge to the Lib- Dems. All three voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU in the 2016 referendum. In all three, it says, the Lib-Dems have been boosted by their stance on Brexit – but mainly at Labour's expense. Finchley and Golders Green has seen the biggest shift, with a 25 percent swing from Labour to the Lib-Dems – although the candidate still trails the Tories by 14 points.

Tory leads in the other two seats are far narrower: three points in Kensington and just two points in Wimbledon, largely as a result of Johnson's Brexit policy having gone down badly with many pro-EU Tories. Around half of the party's Remain voters have deserted it, most having gone to the Lib-Dems.

Mirroring the national picture, the Conservatives are currently leading in these strongly "remain seats" because the opposition is divided between Labour and the Lib-Dems. If Labour was out of the picture, most of the Labour votes would transfer to the Lib-Dems. But if the Lib-Dem candidate quit, the Tory majority would probably increase.

This sort of polling, also carried out by Deltapoll, certainly provides an illustration of the complexity of voting patterns, and opens the way for some shock results when the votes are counted. But, for all the reservations about opinion polls, they do seem to be stabilising relatively early and – with one exception in the weekend's batch, are presenting a relatively consistent picture.

What seems to be turning sentiment is the simplicity and clarity of the Tory message: "get Brexit done". Although this hides a subtle lie – as there is no chance that Brexit will be "done" for many years - it is far more attractive a message than the fudge and confusion that is coming from Labour on Brexit.

Arguably, the Lib-Dems are delivering simplicity and clarity in equal measure, but voters also appear to remain conscious of the purpose of a general election – to choose a government. Despite the many loathsome attributes of Johnson, no one in their right mind could imagine "shrieking Jo" as a prime minister.

The one great unknown, though, is turnout – variations of which probably have a far greater effect than many pundits realise. And whatever else this election isn't, it most certainly is – as Nick Cohen describes, a tawdry affair.

There will be many voters who are prepared to rebel against a political class which treats them with such contempt, presenting second-rate place-men (and women) as candidates, anticipating that we will turn out to vote for one or other of them.

More likely though, if the polls are to be believed, enough people will hold their noses to ward off the stench coming from Westminster and deliver a result. But politicians should not delude themselves that this election is a vote of confidence in them. Voting for the "least worst" is not a choice any of us would prefer.