Labour has regained the lead in The Independent’s “poll of polls” after a mini-bounce for David Cameron in the new year did not last.
Ed Miliband’s party is on 39 per cent (up one point on the previous month), the Conservatives on 37 per cent (down two points) and the Liberal Democrats on 12 per cent (down one point). If repeated at the next general election on the proposed new constituency boundaries, Labour would be the largest party but would be eight seats short of an overall majority.
Labour remains less popular than it was for most of last year. The Tories took the lead after Mr Cameron vetoed an EU-wide treaty aimed at rescuing the euro in December but that now appears to have worn off. His action was later dismissed as a “phantom veto” after 25 of the 27 EU members went ahead with an agreement outside the Union’s governing treaties without Britain and the Czech Republic.
John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University, who compiled the figures, said: “The Tories’ Europe boost has been gradually melting away. Labour’s image in general and its reputation for economic competence in particular is little changed. The party continues to struggle to persuade the public that it represents a viable alternative government.”
Mr Cameron’s personal ratings have slipped back a little but are still higher than they were for much of the second half of last year. Mr Miliband’s ratings improved slightly in February but are only a little better than his all-time low the previous month. Nick Clegg’s personal ratings dipped slightly – enough to make him the least popular of the three main party leaders, the unwanted label he lost temporarily to Mr Miliband in January.
Professor Curtice said Labour’s problems are illustrated by the issue of health, traditionally a strong one for the party. Although there is widespread opposition to the Coalition’s health reforms, there also appear to be widespread doubts about Labour’s ability run the NHS any more effectively, he said.
“While many people struggle to understand the health reforms, there seems little doubt that they have become an albatross around the Coalition’s neck,” said Professor Curtice. “Many have formed the impression that the reforms are misguided and as a result these voters could now be all too easily inclined to blame the Coalition should they form the impression in the next two or three years that standards in the health service have declined.”
But he added: “As on the economy, voters' doubts about the Coalition are not complemented by a clear conviction that Labour would do any better. At some point, Mr Miliband is going to have to start giving the public a clearer idea of how Labour would deliver.”
The “polls of polls” is based on a weighted average of the regular surveys taken by ComRes, ICM, Ipsos MORI and YouGov.Reuse content