The Con-Lab gap drops to just 1% – the closest it’s been since Jan 2012
Convention says that as an election approaches, the public will put aside their flirtation with protest parties and return to the serious business of choosing a government for the country. Well, convention be damned. Five months today will be the last day of campaigning before the General Election yet far from returning to the traditional Westminster parties, voters continue to leave them in ever greater numbers. The way things are going, the winner – if such a term is appropriate – will not be the one that wins the most but the one that loses the least.
Once again, the biggest loser in November was Labour, down another 1.6% last month, amounting to a loss of 3% over the last two months and almost 6% since the same time last year. By contrast, the Conservatives remain marooned within a point of 31.5, as they have been for almost a year and a half. Indeed, driving home the degree of flat-lining is the fact that not only did they score 30.9 this month but they did so last month and also in November 2013. Such precision is a coincidence but the overall story is not. The Lib Dems too remain in much the same range – approximately 8-9% – that they’ve occupied since June.
Instead, the electorate continues to turn to what were once called the minor parties; a term which is in danger of becoming obsolete albeit that their current vote shares wouldn’t impact greatly on Westminster were they to be reproduced next May.
The overall scale of that change is quite remarkable. Until about 2012, it was unusual to quote parties outside the Big Three separately. Were that convention still followed, Others would have polled 28.6% in November: within touching distance of the Tories and Labour. Put another way, there’s been a net swing of some 18.7% from Con, Lab and LD to Others since 2010.
UKIP are, in some ways, the biggest beneficiary of this and although down slightly on their October score, they still had their third-best ever month in the opinion polls, to add to their second by-election success. Perhaps more interesting was that even with UKIP polling so strongly, the other (former?) minor parties also continued to rise in the polls, with their combined score rising to 12.4%: by some way their highest ever and not far off double those parties’ share in the 2010 election.
In fact, ‘Others’ is almost entirely a combination of the Greens, SNP and Plaid following the collapse of the BNP. Unfortunately, the two nationalist parties get lumped together which given their contrasting fortunes isn’t helpful. Even so, assuming that Plaid are still in the doldrums, these figures remain excellent for the SNP. The Greens make their debut in the PB poll average series this month and are up from 4.6% to 5.7%: a level which may act as more than nuisance value on the left-of-centre, even if not to the same extent that UKIP is on the right (and which indicates a substantial number of saved deposits).
What’s clear is that those who expect ‘normality’ to reassert itself are placing their faith entirely in models of the past; there is no evidence whatsoever that this is happening this time, nor that it will happen. That’s not to say it won’t – some factors such as election-time media coverage do favour the established parties and late swings can happen; simply that the electorate continues to move in the opposite direction, to the extent that it’s entirely possible that no fewer than six parties could top a million votes next year when previously no more than three have (excluding the unusual circumstances of 1918). We live in interesting times.