Labour failed to improve its standing with the public despite “winning” the battle between the parties at their annual conferences in the past month.
The Independent’s latest “poll of polls” shows that Labour did not increase its 37 per cent average rating, even though Ed Miliband set the political agenda by pledging a 20-month freeze in energy prices if his party wins power.
The Conservatives’ rating rose by one point to 33 per cent, reducing Labour’s lead from five to four points, continuing a downward trend since it enjoyed a nine-point advantage at the start of this year.
Mr Miliband did secure a bounce in his personal ratings after the Labour conference, at which his party’s strategists set out to strengthen his “brand”. But John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University, who compiled the “poll of polls,” said this had only turned Mr Miliband’s performance rating from “dire” to “poor”. He still has a negative net approval score of about minus 30 points, down from minus-46 points before the conference, according to YouGov.
Professor Curtice said: “The public are still far from regarding him as someone whom they regard as a potential prime minister. Mr Miliband needs to capitalise on the apparent success of his conference speech rather than allow it to dissipate, as he did last year.”
Although he said Mr Miliband might be helped by his row with the Daily Mail after it branded his late father “The Man Who Hated Britain,” he said such an effect was likely to last only a short time in the public’s memory.
“Changing the public’s perceptions will not be easy. No opposition leader whose ratings have been as relentlessly negative as Mr Miliband’s have been within months of taking over, has managed to turn his personal ratings around,” said Professor Curtice.
If repeated at a general election, the latest figures would give Labour 345 seats, the Conservatives 254, the Liberal Democrats 24 and other parties 27. Although Labour would enjoy an overall majority of 40, some of the party’s MPs are worried that a bigger cushion is needed to withstand the pressure of an election campaign.
Professor Curtice said: “It seems that for all its apparent success in making political waves, his party’s conference has not repaired this summer’s damage to its poll ratings, leaving it with a lead that is still well short of what historical precedent suggests should be enjoyed by an opposition that the public has come to regard as an alternative government.”
Despite the good headlines won by Labour, Professor Curtice concluded: “This may prove to be another conference season that fails to make much impression on the electoral battle.”
Labour sources insisted the party had made real progress during the past month, having illustrated its “One Nation” slogan and campaign on the “cost of living crisis” with a hard policy on energy prices that had been noticed by the public and proved highly popular.
Although Nick Clegg was considered to have had a good Liberal Democrat conference, his party remained flat on 11 per cent over the past month. So did the UK Independence Party, despite a shambolic conference overshadowed by Godfrey Bloom, an MEP, referring to women as “sluts.”
The decision by MPs to defeat David Cameron over British military action in Syria failed to make an impact on the parties’ standing.
“Labour’s summer slump remained in evidence while the Tory recovery from the depths to which the party had fallen earlier this year remains in place,” said Professor Curtice.