Labour is catching up with Tories? And is it significant?

Labour cuts gap with Conservatives to single figures in YouGov poll. Do you find this significant, what are the main reasons that, it seems, Labour is somehow catching up with Tories? Read few comment.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Credit: http://www.labour.org.uk

Martin Farr, Senior Lecturer in Modern and Contemporary British History, University of Newcastle

Labour’s narrowing of the lead is significant, for two reasons. Firstly, though it doesn’t mean that Labour will win the election, it does mean that the government may not be elected with the kind of majority that was predicted, and therefore have what would in effect be an impaired mandate – the desire for a large, clear, personal, mandate was why Theresa May called the election in the first place. Secondly it means that the predicted collapse of the Labour vote does not look like happening, and that the position of Jeremy Corbyn is likely to be secure – in the eyes of party members if not necessarily of MPs – after the election.

The most important element is to ask why both of those things are happening. The Conservatives are suffering by being so clearly ahead so early, risking complacency and therefore voter turnout. The party also took an unnecessary risk by being so open about its social care plans in its manifesto last week, a policy that has played badly since. Labour is improving on national polling, but largely by appealing (quite effectively) to its core support, and is being helped by the Liberal Democrats, whose campaign has been very poor.

However… The Conservative Party will still win, and win convincingly. The campaign against Corbyn personally has yet really to begin, and the poll figures are national, whereas the election will be won locally: the Conservatives are campaigning in seats they hope to win, while Labour is campaigning in seats it’s trying to save. I expect increased majorities Labour MPs in safe seats, but few if any gains. Because there will have been no ‘meltdown’ Corbyn can say the project is working.

Lawrence Black, Professor of Modern British History, Head of Department of History, University of York

I’m not sure it is statistically significant yet. There would still be a large Conservative majority by current polling.

I think it reflects some unease with the very rigid Conservative campaign. Repeating the mantra “strong and stable leadership” does appeal, but there is some doubt about how strong and stable it has been recently. Cameron campaigned similarly in 2015, and that did not end well. As inflation rises there is unease about Brexit. The “dementia tax” (partially abandoned today) – to charge the elderly for care through the value of their property – has also met a mixed reception amongst usually Conservative voters. Labour’s efforts to appeal to young voters (students) has been quite successful.

So it signifies that there is much to play for in the election. The result remains potentially close and the current government have a very small majority. But it would have to be a sustained shift for it to mean anything other than a Conservative victory.

Christopher RaymondLecturer in Politics, School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy, and Politics, Queen’s University Belfast

The improvement of Labour’s standing in the polls is significant, but should not be overstated.  This latest YouGov poll (and others, such as this morning’s ICM poll, as well as that by Survation) are showing that Labour are much stronger than many pundits had thought at the start of the election.  Some pundits are claiming this has something to do with the negative press coverage of the Tories’ manifesto and its contents related to social care.  I am quite sceptical, as most people do not pay sufficient attention to politics to notice such events, and when they do, the effects on public opinion tend to be short-lived.

Instead, what the polls seem to suggest is that the Labour Party are showing themselves to be more capable than many had thought at the start of the election.  Corbyn and the rest of the Labour Party have been aided by Brexit.  There are two facts to consider here.  For one, because Corbyn has accepted Brexit as UK policy, he has been able to win back some former Labour voters who had deserted the party in recent elections in favour of UKIP; without needing to defend EU policy on immigration, many of these voters are willing to consider voting for Labour again (instead of supporting the Conservatives, as many former UKIP voters initially seemed poised to do).  Second, because many anti-Brexit voters have recognised that the UK public would not be happy with the second EU referendum the Liberal Democrats have suggested (a referendum they would not win), and because anti-Brexit voters have started to recognise that a fragmented opposition does not increase the chances of preventing a hard Brexit (if anything, a divided opposition increases the Tories’ chances of winning and delivering a hard Brexit), many anti-Brexit voters have decided that Labour poses the best chance of stopping the Conservatives.  As a result of these two developments, Labour have benefited in recent weeks.  If this performance sustains itself throughout the remainder of the campaign, I would expect more of the party to rally around Jeremy Corbyn.

With that being said, my expectation of a Conservative victory has not changed.  Certainly, Labour is going to win many more votes and seats than pundits initially feared they would.  However, any missteps by the Conservatives last week have not fundamentally changed the fact that the majority of the UK public is in favour of Brexit; because this election is being fought primarily on the parties’ visions of Britain in a post-Brexit Europe, and because the Conservatives have moved to what the public views as the middle ground on this issue, they still stand the best chance of winning this election.

Philip Cowley, Professor of Politics, Queen Mary, University of London

It’s important – it’s changed the narrative of the election. But it’s too soon to tell how significant. Labour’s vote has been trending up, slowly, since the election began, but the biggest changes have occurred since the launch of the Conservative manifesto, which has given Labour plenty of ammunition. But since one of the Conservatives main fears at the beginning of the election was complacency amongst their supporters, it may not be that bad for them that the lead has narrowed somewhat.

Bill Jones, Senior Honorary Research Fellow,  Liverpool Hope University

Yes, it is significant I think. As you know, our press in UK is mostly right-wing- 3 billionaires dominate 80% of press circulation and also, eg Murdoch, have some control over broadcasting. So it’s hard for Labour to get its messages across. Conservatives, meanwhile have been able to steal policies advocated by Labour in 20015 and ridiculed by Conservatives without any real criticism in the media. Theresa May has run a ‘presidential’ campaign, focusing on her ‘strong and stable’ leadership against the threatened ‘coalition of chaos’ led by Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn. Labour’s manifesto contains lots of spending promises- e.g. abolishing tuition fees for university students, giving lots of money to the arts and investing in infrastructure as well as nationalising railways. The Conservative document was less generous and actually proposes measures unfavourable to older voters(80% of over 55s turn out to vote on average compared with around 45% 18-34 year olds). Younger voters more pro Labour while older ones vote Conservative to a greater extent. Annoying older voters probably explains much of the advances made by Labour.

Moreover, threatening to take away the annual £300 winter fuel allowance for pensioners in the manifesto has not gone down well and the proposed new system of funding social care for the elderly proved positively toxic. May suggested that she would introduce a system whereby individuals would have to pay for their own care even if they have to sell their houses apart from £100,000 worth of cash. This really alarmed older voters (who love their houses) and many of May’s colleagues to the degree she (partially) abandoned the policy earlier today. Even before this last crisis, Conservatives’ lead in polls had been cut from 25% down to 9%, so this is a real ‘wobble’ and May’s leadership looks anything but ‘strong and stable.’

But with 9% advantage May should still achieve an increased majority of over 50 seats: good enough to govern but nowhere near the ‘landslide’ she wanted and expected.

Robin Pettitt, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Arts and Social Science, Kingston University

A certain narrowing of the gap between the two parties was always to be expected as the campaign got under way. Both parties and their people are put under pressure and scrutiny, especially the likely winner, so some negative coverage is to be expected. Labour also has a somewhat better ‘ground game’ (i.e. activists out campaigning) than the Tories, although in 2015 the Tories were ruthless in targeting marginal seats, something they are doing again this time. So, Labour may have narrowed the gap, but not necessarily in the seats that count.

The Conservatives have also had some negative coverage, especially on the issue of care for the elderly. This has led to a rather embarrassing U-turn (which does not fit very well with May’s ‘strong and stable’ mantra). The U-turn only happened today, so will not be reflected in recent polls, but it is likely to cement Labour’s increase.

It is probably still too much to say that Labour is ‘catching up’. They are still seen as profoundly unready to govern, but clearly there has been a certain return to Labour, probably from undecided voters.

So, I don’t think we will see Labour catch-up with the Tories, and they are still likely to lose seats badly, but Corbyn may be able to use a better than expected vote share to claim some kind of victory against his critics within the party.

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