Narrowing lead still leaves Tories far behind

by Prof Richard Rose, 31 March 2023

A boost in the opinion polls is always good news for a government and March opinion polls show Conservative support up by 1.4 percent from February. This is enough to add 29 MPs to the total forecast last month. Moreover, it also reduces Labour's lead over the Tories by more than one hundred seats.

However, climbing up in the polls isn't much cause for celebration in Downing Street when the government is in one of the deepest holes of any postwar government. After a budget with benefits for young mothers and people with lots of money to save for their pension, the Conservatives are still 19 percent behind Labour and the projected gain in seats leaves the government 264 seats behind Labour.

Probability of Parliamentary outcomes April 2023

The small change in Labour's vote is no cause for Sir Keir Starmer to take alarm when the polls are crediting Labour a higher share of the vote than Labour has gained at any general election since Harold Wilson's landslide victory in 1966. The Conservatives currently have a lower share of the popular vote at any election since universal suffrage was introduced a century ago.

Labour has benefited in Scotland from the bitter fight within the Scottish National Party about who should be the new leader of the Scottish government. It is projected to add 11 more Scottish MPs to its current sole survivor of its 2019 wipe out. The Conservatives are forecast to hold the six Scottish seats the party now have. Starmer doesn't need to repeat in Scotland his recent remark that leading Labour is like being manager of England's football team to keep the SNP Scotland's largest party. Its forecast loss of a dozen seats leaves the SNP with a substantial majority of Scotland's MPs and the third-largest party in the House of Commons.

The polls continue to show that half a dozen "third" parties collectively have the support of more than one-quarter of the voters and are sufficiently concentrated to win 80 seats. Although the Liberal Democrat forecast share of the national vote is down it stands to up its number of MPs to 20.

There is a one-in-twenty chance that no party has the absolute parliamentary majority needed to maintain a secure hold on government throughout the next Parliament. If Labour failed to win an absolute majority in the next House of Commons, this would not be good news for the Conservatives. All the third parties, from the Greens to the Democratic Unionist Party, are now opposed to the Conservative government. Thus, it is inconceivable that they would want to keep the Conservatives in control of government. Moreover, it would take years before the third parties would be ready to unite to vote no confidence in a minority Labour government, should it by any chance occur.

Richard Rose is Britain's senior psephologist and an expert on party government. His new book 'How Sick is British Democracy?: a Clinical Analysis' is published by Palgrave.