Ashcroft battlegrounds poll: Lib Dems set to lose four marginal seats to Labour

lib lab Labour Liberal Democrat logoThe second of Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft’s polls of Lib Dem marginal seats was published this week, focusing on four of our battlegrounds with Labour: Norwich South (held by Simon Wright), Bradford East (David Ward), Brent Central (Sarah Teather standing down, Ibrahim Taguri selected), and Manchester Withington (John Leech). Also included was Brighton Pavilion, which Caroline Lucas won for the Greens from Labour in 2010.

(The previous instalment focused on the Lib Dem-Tory battlegrounds.)

It comes as little surprise to learn that, as the polls stand, all would be lost to Labour – these are, after all, the four most marginal Lib Dem-held seats where Labour is the main challenger. You can see the constituency breakdowns below, in response to the question: “thinking specifically about your own parliamentary constituency at the next general election and the candidates who are likely to stand for election to Westminster there, which party’s candidate do you think you will vote for in your own constituency?”:

lab lib battlegrounds

What will be more disappointing for the party is to see how far our proportion of the vote has fallen, down by double-digits in each case. Indeed, in Norwich South the Ashcroft poll shows the Lib Dems trailing in fifth place, behind the Greens, Tories and Ukip.

Before we get ahead of ourselves, it’s worth remembering (as, to be fair, Lord Ashcroft continually asserts): “like all polls, these are snapshots, not forecasts”. It’s also worth remembering that, though Ashcroft’s polling prompts voters to think about their constituency, it does not prompt by the name of the candidates standing there (which, after all, is what the ballot paper will do). In the case of Lib Dem MPs, who tend to have a significant personal vote, that means the polling may under-estimate their performance. However, it clearly would not have made a difference to the outcome in these seats in this poll.

Though I can understand the logic of Lord Ashcroft deciding to poll the most marginal Lib Dem-Labour battlegrounds, the findings aren’t too surprising. We know these are the seats which are most under threat. More interesting would have been the less marginal seats which we also know will be tight next time, such as Simon Hughes in Southwark and Bermondsey or Jenny Willott in Cardiff Central or Danny Alexander in Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey. Still, let’s not be ungrateful to Lord Ashcroft for releasing into the public domain his polling – he can afford it better than can the Lib Dems.

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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41 Comments

  • Tony Dawson 6th Jul '14 - 2:55pm

    Mr Ashcroft appears to have rather wasted his money by choosing those particular seats. None appears to be currently the remotest bit marginal. The Labour-Lib Dem marginal sets are clearly in another category.

  • Chris Keating 6th Jul '14 - 3:02pm

    In the national polls, compared to the last General Election, Lib Dems are down roughly 15% and Labour are up roughly 7%.

    It is particularly interesting that in Withington and Brent Central we are doing significantly *worse* than national trend suggests, and not much better in the other two seats.

  • In the polls:
    Which party did you vote for last time?
    Bradford East – Lab 249, LD 153 (weighted, Lab 194, LD 172)
    Brent Central – Lab 257, LD 174 (weighted, Lab 224, LD 217)
    Manchester Withington – Lab 324, LD 236 (weighted, Lab 241, LD 243)
    Norwich South – Lab 206, LD 170 (weighted, Lab 154, LD 155)

    Doesn’t look like a representative sample …

  • It is pretty clear that we will lose all of these seats, but I will be surprised to see us go as low as this in any of the seats polled

  • paul barker 6th Jul '14 - 3:39pm

    “Set to lose”. No, this Poll was taken when we were averaging 8% in the National Polls, do you seriously think we will be on 8% on the 7th of May ? Even Polls in the last few days have us edging up again. Polls are not predictions & if they are to be any use they need to be compared with other Polls, like for Like. If Ashcroft repeats this Polling in the same seats in 5 years Time that will give us some useful information, maybe.

  • Tsar Nicholas 6th Jul '14 - 3:54pm

    Polls are not predictions, but posters who see a recovery have no evidence to point at to suggest that there will be one. It is all wishful thinking.

    As for Jenny Willott and Cardiff Central there is not a hope in hell of her retaining that seat. A poll by Ashcroft would have been interesting, but why conduct an opinion poll when the Welsh assembly elections in 2011, the council elections in 2012, the Euros and the relatively few number of Wales-only opinion polls point the same way? A Labour gain in 2015.

  • Julian Critchley 6th Jul '14 - 4:15pm

    Nobody needs Ashcroft’s polls. The numbers are looking quite clear. Here :

    http://www.electoralcalculus.co.uk/gainloss.html

    This is the result of taking a party whose supporters were largely centre-left social-democrats who reject Thatcherism, and turn it into a right-wing party which pushes Thatcherism further and faster than ever before.

    Only one more seat to change hands, and my prediction of all LibDem MPs being able to fit into a single minibus will come true.

    Less than a year now before those chickens come home to roost.

  • Averaged across the four seats in that poll that the Lib Dems currently hold it amounts to the Lib Dems losing half of their share of the vote in these seats where they have MPs, which is better than the polls predict for them nationally.

    The Lib Dems will surely lose more than half of their MPs at the next general election. They lost over 90% of their MEPs and about 2/3rds of their MSPs already.

    The Lib Dems used to do pretty well in Scotland, sure they got around the same percentage of the vote in Scotland as the Tories but unlike the Tories they had areas that they were really strong in and were in government in Scotland twice. I think prior to the 2011 Holyrood election the Lib Dems had 11 constituency MSPs in Scotland.

    I expect to see what happened to the Lib Dems in the Scottish parliament elections happen in the UK general election across most of the UK, except perhaps in the South of England.

    Part of me thinks it is a shame to see the end of the Lib Dems. But another part of me thinks it has to happen. I think it would set a terrible prescdient for democracy if a party could go back on their pledges and promises and not be severely punished by the electorate for it. What sort of democracy would we be left with then?

    The Lib Dems say they made a mistake making promises and pledges. I don’t think they did, I think the mistake was not keeping their promises and pledges. Politicians should make pledges and promises, specific ones too, not just vague waffle. After all, if MPs and parties don’t tell us what they plan to do when in power and don’t promise to do specific things then what is the point in voting for them? Do they expect us just to send them to Westminister to do as they like because they delivered a focus leaflet every month?

  • Sorry – but that is a grotesquely misleading headline. If you are projecting from these polls (and in his presentation of the results Ashcroft was very clear they were a snapshot and not a prediction), then the number of losses to Labour based on the swing is projected as (if I remember correctly) 17 seats, not 4.

    The message from the Ashcroft polls is consistent with that from other evidence – the changes in percentage votes in Con/LD marginals are in line with the national opinion polls, and in Lab/LD marginals they are significantly worse for the LDs than in the national polls. That is credible, because in seats where the Lib Dems are not in contention, the decrease in the Lib Dem vote is likely to be less than the 15 points or so indicated by the national polls (in many seats there aren’t 15 percentage points for the Lib Dems to lose!).

    So overall, despite all the lazy assumptions about “incumbency” resulting in better results for the Lib Dems than uniform swing would suggest, uniform swing is likely to give a pretty good estimate of losses to the Tories, and an underestimate of losses to Labour. And that is in line with the fact that uniform swing would have been almost spot on in 2010 in terms of Lib Dem seats.

  • These results are predictable. I would have voted Lib Dem if I had lived in these seats in 2010. I would, however, vote Labour in 2015 if I lived in any of these seats apart from Brighton Pavilion. Lib Dem MPs are far more likely to survive in Lib-Con seats where I would be tempted to vote Lib Dem. Some moderate and pro-EU conservatives might also be tempted to vote Lib Dem.

  • I am afraid Bermondsey, Inverness and Cardiff Central are probably all down the pan. We have to be realistic. Labour can hound Simon Hughes now because he is in the government and as for Danny Alexander he is a sitting duck. Paul Barker, it is quite conceivable that we will be at 7 or 8% at the time the election is held. You just do not understand how desperately dire the situation is. The poll for Thanet S was published in the last 48 hours we are at less than 1%!!!!!, I can see us holding one seat in Scotland, Kennedy’s and one in Wales at Brecon, altogether we will do well to get 15 MPs, it will probably be less. We tend to dream as a party and do not face reality, I have done it in the past
    but long experience has taught me it is unrealistic. The public, the voters, the electorate know we are in the …. and really are not much interested in getting us out of it.
    There is no way to escape, the next election is Conservative versus Labour and we will be squeezed as never before, worse than 1970 and probably as bad as 55. I just do not know why Cl;egg the Undertaker does not go of his own accord. It will hep us all, my god we need help. All he can offer is more misery.

  • “No, this Poll was taken when we were averaging 8% in the National Polls, do you seriously think we will be on 8% on the 7th of May ? Even Polls in the last few days have us edging up again.”

    Well, the one great constant in the opinion polls for the last three and a half years is that the Lib Dems have been uncannily steady at around 10% – until the last couple of months, when they have dipped even lower. Of course no one knows exactly what the Lib Dem share of the vote will be next year, but given the remarkable constancy of the rating over most of this parliament, it’s a pretty safe bet that the Lib Dems will not be significantly above 10% when they go into the election campaign.

  • As for Jenny Willott and Cardiff Central there is not a hope in hell of her retaining that seat. A poll by Ashcroft would have been interesting, but why conduct an opinion poll when the Welsh assembly elections in 2011, the council elections in 2012, the Euros and the relatively few number of Wales-only opinion polls point the same way? A Labour gain in 2015.

    Actually, we led in council elections here, and lost the Welsh parliamentary seat by double figures with an incumbent stepping down. I do think that this is one we’ll lose, but there is certainly no certainty.
    I would be surprised to see Hughes or Alexander lose though (Alexander mainly due to split opposition, rather than a lack of swing)

  • Also, people should stop moaning on ‘Clegg should go’. I did support him stepping down immediately after the Euros, but that ship has now sailed, and any leadership change would just look desperate.
    I cannot see us falling below 30 seats, even on a really dire night.

  • Withington Manchester has a very large student population, the reason the LibDems took the seat was because of the pledge on tuition fees. There is absolutely no chance of holding it, it’s a shame for John Leech who seems a decent guy, but he fought near enough his whole campaigne on one issue and was sold out by the leadership. He will be a brave man to even show his face at the GE – one things for certain, the leadership won’t dare go there.

  • Malcolm Todd 6th Jul '14 - 9:10pm

    Polls are not predictions, as paul barker rightly says. What they are, however, is a snapshot and as such the best evidence available on which people then attempt to make predictions. Or, which you ignore completely unless they happen to suit your argument; and if you think that polls showing a variation of 1 or 2% amounts to evidence of anything at all, then you might as well just make it up.
    The key point is as Chris says (6th Jul ’14 – 8:21pm) — the polls have been remarkably consistent in the level of support for the Lib Dems since late 2010, so you need a pretty compelling argument for believing that it will change significantly between now and next May.

  • Tsar Nicholas 6th Jul '14 - 9:21pm

    @ Theakes

    Not many Wales-only polls, but one out this week shows not only Cardiff Central going to Labour but Brecon and Radnorshire going to the Conservatives. These losses are also predicted on the electoral calculus site linked to by Julian Critchley.

    http://www.clickonwales.org/2014/07/ukip-still-on-the-up/

  • Malcolm Todd
    Being Devil’s Advocate for a moment, in terms of your “evidence to make predictions” argument, you might well assume that such movement there may be before polling day itself, assuming there are no further major vote shifting issues in the interim, would actually occur in the campaign itself. Our vote often moves, either way, during that period. I think it is enormously difficult to make any precise predictions in this respect, even which way polls may move, or whether any movement will take place in the coalition situation. Speaking of which, decisions regarding coalition could well have some effect.

  • “I cannot see us falling below 30 seats, even on a really dire night.”

    It’s all very well saying you can’t see it, but if you look at a uniform swing projection based on the average of recent polls – and in deference to Paul Barker raise the Lib Dem rating a couple of points – the result is just 21 seats for the Lib Dems:
    http://www.electoralcalculus.co.uk/cgi-bin/usercode.pl?http://www.electoralcalculus.co.uk/cgi-bin/usercode.pl?CON=32&TVCON=&LAB=35&TVLAB=&LIB=10&TVLIB=&UKIP=3.17&region=All+GB+changed+seats&boundary=2010&seat=–Show+all–

    Given that the Ashcroft polls show a larger decrease in the Lib Dem vote in “Labour-facing” seats, that may well be an overestimate.

    And that is with UKIP at 14%. If some of those voters are squeezed back towards the Tories during a general election campaign, then that will also make things worse for the Lib Dems. For example, if 5% of them go to the Tories, the projected number of seats for the Lib Dems falls to 11.

  • “Our vote often moves, either way, during that period. I think it is enormously difficult to make any precise predictions in this respect, even which way polls may move, or whether any movement will take place in the coalition situation.”

    Yes – of course previously the Lib Dem rating has risen a few points during the campaign.

    Maybe that will happen again, but on the other hand the rise has generally been attributed to increased exposure for the Lib Dems during the election campaign, and it can be argued that (1) as coalition partners the Lib Dems have already enjoyed much higher exposure than during previous parliaments and (2) much of the exposure during the campaign will be exposure of Nick Clegg, and given his personal unpopularity that may not be beneficial.

  • Jonathan Pile 7th Jul '14 - 8:05am

    These polls confirm the ICM Oakeshott poll in Sheffield Hallam in May. The -29% shift is inline with the -23% Manchester Withington and a result of the shift in student vote which would put Clegg out in 3rd place. 2015 will be the first time that we have a lib leader with a negative poll rating taking us into a GE campaign. The parallel is may 1979. We got 11 seats and will do so again with NC, though he won’t be one of them

  • William Jones 7th Jul '14 - 8:08am

    Malc, John Leech is not in hiding in his constituency as you suggest. He has been campaigning hard, there for the last 2 years and will continue to do so up to May 6th 2015.

  • Paul in Wokingham 7th Jul '14 - 9:01am

    Yesterday’s YouGov poll for the Sunday Times has an unusual question about “things that annoy you on holiday”. Turns out that Lib Dems are disproportionately annoyed by ” being charged for WiFi in hotels” and “other British holidaymakers”, while Conservatives are more likely to be put out by ” babies on planes” and Labour supporters by “mobile phone roaming charges”. There’s some fundamental political truth in there, isn’t there?

  • William Jones

    “Malc, John Leech is not in hiding in his constituency as you suggest. He has been campaigning hard, there for the last 2 years and will continue to do so up to May 6th 2015.”

    He seems a decent guy and I wish him well, but I visit Withington a couple of times a month – seeing friends, family and on business – and don’t know anyone who will vote for him. I was there around the time he first got elected, it was a great campaign – posters and workers every where – but it was nearly all about tuition fees. I think he believed the pledge as much as the students did, but he’s been thrown to the lions by the leadership. I’m sure he is working hard campaigning, but he must know he has no chance of winning.

  • If the Undertaker reads all this he must wonder what he is doing.

  • Given the great trust being placed in the benefits of “incumbency”, it’s perhaps worth looking at the actual figures from the analysis of the 2010 by Curtice et al:
    http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1643443

    Lib Dem incumbents experienced an average increase of 0.6%, compared with the national figure of 0.8%.
    Conservative incumbents experienced an average increase of 4.1%, compared with the national figure of 3.8%.
    Labour incumbents experienced an average decrease of 5.2%, compared with the national figure of 6.5%.

    So on the evidence of 2010 incumbency made little difference – not much more than a percentage point or so.

  • And from your figures quoted from Curtice et al it appears that our incumbents did marginally worse than the average of party candidates! Whereas Tory and Labour incumbents did rather better than their equivalents. This is very different from the normally accepted ideas.

  • William Jones 7th Jul '14 - 7:44pm

    Malc, while tuition fees are a difficult issue in an area with lots of students. This is an issue for the wards of Withington Ward and Old Moat in the constituency. You also have to consider the wards of Didsbury East and West, Chorlton, Chorlton Park and Burnage that don’t have so many resident students.

    I can assure you people are still voting for John Leech in Withington and many of the students aren’t voting Labour but voting Green.

    Withington is still in play and John and his team are still campaigning hard.

  • William Jones

    Although I’m now a Labour voter I do wish John Leech the best of luck. I can’t see him defending his seat, but at least he stuck to his principles and voted against tuition fees and other Tory policies – the LibDems need MP’s like that. All the very best with the GE campaign.

  • malc 7th Jul ’14 – 11:31pm
    William Jones

    “Although I’m now a Labour voter I do wish John Leech the best of luck. I can’t see him defending his seat, but at least he stuck to his principles and voted against tuition fees and other Tory policies – the LibDems need MP’s like that. All the very best with the GE campaign.”

    It is comments like this which drive me mad.

    Fact;

    Tuition fees were introduced by a Labour Goverment with a huge majority. They then increased them further. Their policy of tuition really hit part time students in particular.

    The Labour party in government broke a specific commitment it made to the electorate in its 2001 manifesto that it would not further increase tuition fees.

    in 2010 the Lib Dems then messed up with claiming to finally be able to deliver free tuition fees at some point.

    The current tuition fee system has actually seen a large increase in people going to university from low income households, Check out the figures.

    No one comes out of this whole issue with much credit,, but can we at least start looking at actual outcomes of who is now going to university?

  • If I was a Green I would think that the Greens could hold Brighton Pavilion. According to Ashcroft’s figure Labour are only 1% ahead. The Greens just need to increase the number of leaflets that they are delivering to out deliver Labour. Also I think that during a general election Caroline Lucas’ vote would increase.

    Recently I looked at all our seats to try to put them in an order to determine which don’t need any central help, those that do and those where any central help is unlikely to make the difference to us holding them. I have already considered Brent Central, Bradford East, Manchester Withington and Norwich South to be seats in the last category.

    In Bradford East it appears we are putting out more leaflets than Labour. I think the Local Party should try to discover why their message is not being turned into support. I wonder if David Ward might have a high profile in the constituency (especially because of his former role with Bradford City Football club)? He was a local councillor and stood four times for Bradford North most of which I assume is in Bradford East now.

    @ Iain
    Your figures are interesting I would expect that the weighted figures would be close to the 2010 general election split.
    LD/Lab figures
    Bradford East weighted 30/36 – actual 34/33
    Brent Central weighted 41.2/42.5 – actual 44/41
    Manchester Withington weighted 43/43 – actual 45/41
    Norwich South 29/29 – 29/29

    For Bradford East they are 7% in favour of Labour, Brent Central 4.3%, and Manchester Withington 4%. This is makes the biggest difference to the result in Bradford East which increases from LD 23/ Lab 45 to LD 30/Lab 38.

    @ theakes
    Simon’s seat is our thirteenth safest, Danny our fourteenth, Jenny our twenty-fourth. However much I would like to see Danny not returned to Parliament I still think he will be and I would expect Simon to be returned as well. Brecon & Radnorshire (Roger Williams) is our thirty-first safest seat but I agree with you we are more likely to keep it than Cardiff Central, but I don’t consider it should be in my last category.

    Our losses in MP’s are likely to be our worse since 1924 and hopefully we can do better than 7.5% of the vote achieved in 1970 (in 1955 we only had 2.5% of the vote).

  • http://www.suttontrust.com/public/documents/icof-report-sep-2013.pdf

    At bit more information about the real impact of tuition fees and how the current system is in many respects fairer than what existed pre 2010 .

    This is a good report and well worth reading.

    As

  • Simon

    I’m not saying I’ve any great faith in the Labour Party, but – unless we have a good independent – they are the best of a poor bunch. The LibDems would be the last party I’d vote for after their last election campaign – tuition pledge, “no more broken promises”, “a new kind of politics” – I’d throw up at the thought of it. A complete change of leadership is required before I would even consider returning.
    Sorry if my earlier comments have been ” driving you mad”, but think how students and their families felt watching the LibDem leadership voting to triple tuition fees. It’s interesting that you link increased tuition fees to an large increase in people going to university from low income households. Perhaps this could be new LibDem policy ” we will raise tuition fees again to get more kids into university”, I’m sure that policy will help John Leech defend Withington.

  • Matthew Huntbach 8th Jul '14 - 4:23pm

    Simon

    It is comments like this which drive me mad.

    Why? It’s a fair comment. Why should Liberal Democrat MPs who voted against the tuition fees increase suffer from a loss of votes from people saying “I’ll never vote Liberal Democrat again because of the tuition fees issue”?

    Why should those of us who have worked hard all our lives building up the Liberal Democrats, and who believed your leadership when we were told the 2010 manifesto was properly costed see our life’s work destroyed when we played no part in this “going back on our promises”?

    If there was the promise of electoral award for those Liberal Democrats who stood up to the leadership, then I think we would have got rid of Nick Clegg by now. I know (not least from my own local party) that there are a great many Liberal Democrat members wavering on whether to take the necessary action to get rid of Clegg, but pulling back because it seems whatever we do, we’ll still be branded as the party of Nick Clegg, so it isn’t worth the disruption of going through a leadership election as it won’t help.

    In 2010 the Lib Dems then messed up with claiming to finally be able to deliver free tuition fees at some point.

    The mess up was on pledging to vote against it because that did not take account of all the post-election possibilities. It’s not saying the Liberal Democrats could not deliver free university tuition, but that’s a different thing from delivering free university tuition in the context of having to get agreement for what it would cost from a coalition partner. It could have been delivered – but at the cost of tax rises that would go against the Tories’ “red lines”, or at the cost of very large scale reduction in the number of university places, which would have met the words of the “pledge”, but I doubt would have brought the Liberal Democrats any better a poll standing now than going against the pledge has given them.

    We need to know from the party leadership first of all was the manifesto REALLY costed, how would they have paid for free university tuition if they had got a majority? Second, when there was this big publicity about signing the pledge on this issue, to what extent was it thought through, to what extent was the possibility of the Liberal Democrats being in a coalition considered?

  • Matthew Huntbach 8th Jul '14 - 4:28pm

    malc

    I’m not saying I’ve any great faith in the Labour Party, but – unless we have a good independent – they are the best of a poor bunch.

    Have you asked them what they plan to do about university tuition? If they are going to benefit from all those people rushing from the LibDems to them over tuition fees, then I think they should tell us what they would do to bring tuition fees back to where they were in 2010. If they can’t do that, then they are implicitly saying that they too would have tripled university tuition under the circumstances, and then I certainly don’t think they deserve the votes of those deserting the LibDems on that issue.

  • Mike Falchikov 8th Jul '14 - 4:38pm

    Theakes – only one seat in Scotland? You must have forgotten about Orkney & Shetland where even in the
    Euros there was a healthy Lib Dem majority of 15-20% in both groups of islands.

  • Matthew Huntbach

    I understand where your coming from and I very much doubt that Labour will scrap or even reduce tuition fees. If they could come up with a way of scrapping tuition fees I think they would win the GE with a very large majority, but this doesn’t appear to be in their plans. However, as much as I hate saddling young people with large debts it was the “pledge” perhaps even more than the raising of the rate that annoyed me. The 2010 GE pictures of Cleg smirking and pretending he was more honest and honourable that politicians from the other parties still turns my stomach. Until the LibDems get rid of Clegg and a certain Orange Book – which looks like it was based on ideas of Maggie Thatcher and Keith Josephs in the 70’s – my vote goes to Labour.

  • >my vote goes to Labour.

    …the party that introduced tuition fees and then left the system with such a shortfall it precipitated the current situation? I thought you were against tuition fees?

  • James Thompson 10th Jul '14 - 10:51am

    ChrisB

    And I thought the LDs were as well. That’s why I voted for the . Never again.

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