October was a month best forgotten by Ed Miliband, though reference to his memory may not aid that process. Apart from the mess of a conference speech (and indeed, the conference generally, which was Labour’s last big set-piece before they launch their manifesto next year), it contained the near-miss at Heywood & Middleton and ended with his personal ratings dropping to levels that are so subterranean they could be mined for Helium-3. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the net result of all that negative attention has been that Labour’s poll average for October dropped to a new low for the parliament, at 33.5%.
Not that it did the Conservatives much good, except in relative terms (a point we’ll come back to). The Tory share also fell, to 30.9%, itself the lowest share for the Blues this year, though still within the narrow band a point either side of 31.5 that it’s been in since last summer. Indeed, apart from that dip in 2013, the Conservatives have been bumping along in the low-thirties ever since the omnishambles Budget. The concern at Number Ten and CCHQ will be the way that improved government ratings haven’t fed through to improved party scores, particularly given Labour’s decline over the same period.
Also bumping along are the Lib Dems, who did put a little on to their share last month but given that they hit their lowest-ever level in September, that’s not too much to shout about, particularly given that their conference was in October this year. The reality is that like the Tories, the Yellows are also bumping along the bottom.
Instead, it’s UKIP who are the month’s winners, hitting a record PB Average high (just), to go along with their first-ever Westminster win, a narrow second place, a S Yorks PCC result that would have looked better had they not over-egged that particular PR pudding and their highest ever individual poll score (25% with Survation – not included in the PBPA).
Not for the first time, UKIP seem to gain from the oxygen of publicity at election times, overriding the disapproval many voters have for them. The big question is whether that will still hold true next year. Working against the theory will be that UKIP is not yet guaranteed equal coverage with the Lib Dems (who they outpolled for a 21st consecutive month), never mind the Tories or Labour, that voters may vote tactically against them and that the ‘wasted vote’ argument will be a negative until there’s a track record at a General Election to prove otherwise. Even so, the fact that UKIP produced clear peaks in the Springs of all of the last three years can’t be ignored.
The big picture, however, remains the Tory-Labour battle – and that is also travelling in an interesting direction. During the winter of 2012-13, Labour maintained a fairly steady 10-point lead. Slowly but surely, that’s been eroding ever since, almost entirely due to a fall in the Labour vote. The Labour lead of 2.6% wasn’t the lowest since Cameron’s Veto Bounce in Dec 2011 (the Lab lead was 2.2% in May this year), but it was the second-lowest and marked the eighteenth month in nineteen that the six-month rolling average for the lead has declined. Can that continue and if so, will it? By definition, only if Labour continue to decline or the Tories start picking up. But there’s been no sign of the latter, despite an improving economy or Miliband’s failing ratings – it’s UKIP and Others who’ve benefitted – so can Labour drop yet further? Watch this space.