Wednesday, 28 April 2010

North East: what do the polls say?

Liberal Conspiracy has news of a very revealing poll. There's lots of polls at the moment, but this is one of the most genuinely illuminating I've seen. This is partly because it offers a region-by-region breakdown, which means it's possible to survey the parties' changing fortunes in my own region: the North East of England.

It's an unusual region: out of our 30 MPs, 28 are Labour. The exceptions are Alan Beith, for the Lib Dems up in Berwick, and a Tory in the rural Hexham constituency. But at local government level it's not been such plain sailing for Labour in recent years. The Lib Dems overtook Labour in Newcastle a little while ago, and in several other council boroughs the party no longer dominates as it once did.

The headline story from the poll is extremely simple: Labour support has shifted substantially to the Lib Dems since the last general election in 2005. Yet it's also a little complicated. The poll provides data from 3 points: the results in 2005; polling at the start of this campaign; poll results from 19-24 April, after Nick Clegg's role in the leaders' debate gave his party a boost.

The polling at the start of the campaign illustrated the decline in Labour's support in the North East: 8% down on 2005. 5% of that went to the Tories, but only 1% to the Lib Dems (and 'others' increased by 2%).

In the most recent polling that has changed dramatically. The Labour decline is even greater - it's now a whopping 14% down on 2005.

But who is now picking up support? According to the latest data, the Tories' 5% gain has been totally wiped out. Instead there's a leap of 12% for the Lib Dems compared to the 2005 election. So, at the start of this campaign they were only registering a 1% increase, but that's shot up to 12%.

If - and it's a big if - these polls translate into results next Thursday, there will be 3 major stories in the North East:

1. The sharp fall in votes for Labour, which has historically been dominant and all-conquering
2. The failure of the Tories to make any progress
3. The rise of the Lib Dems - already increasingly successful in local councils - in the popular vote.

However, I'm not sure if this will translate into seats - it will still be difficult for the Lib Dems to take seats from Labour. What it suggests, however, is that in Labour's heartlands we still haven't forgotten and forgiven the Tories - but the Lib Dems can, when they appear credible, take support from a Labour Party people are thoroughly disillusioned with.

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