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YouGov poll's message to Tories: go home and prepare for government

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 11 September 2008

The Conservative party is on course for a three-figure majority - that's the message from today's Channel 4 News/YouGov poll, according to Peter Kellner.

The seats that will decide the next general election are moving Conservative in a big way. If voters were going to the polls this week, David Cameron would be Britain's new prime minister with a Commons majority of at least 100.

Those are the inescapable conclusions of a special "Battleground Britain" survey conducted by YouGov for Channel 4 News. We questioned 2,144 electors in 60 key constituencies. These are the seats where Labour MPs next time will be defending majorities of between 6 per cent and 14 per cent.*

We chose these seats because they will determine whether the Tories become Britain's largest party next time - and, if so, whether they win outright. Labour could lose all the seats where its majority is less than 6 per cent (and these include Redditch, whose MP is Jacqui Smith, the home secretary) and still remain the largest party in the new parliament.

But if the Tories make inroads into our Battleground Britain seats, then they will be the largest party; and if they scoop the lot, they will have an overall majority (and unseat, among others, Ruth Kelly, the transport secretary, and Tony McNulty, the home office minister).

For the Conservatives the message is: don't blow it. For Labour the message is: you have a mountain to climb.

That would need a swing of 7 per cent. Our poll indicates that the current swing is 12 per cent. Such a swing would give the Tories a majority of around 150 if the election were held this week. One casualty could be Jack Straw, the justice secretary.

Could these seats behave differently, if and when voters realise they live in a key marginal? We asked people later in our survey how they would vote "if you were convinced that the only two parties with a realistic chance of winning in your constituency were Labour or the Conservatives?" Some voters switch from Lib Dem and minor parties, with Labour picking up more than the Conservatives. But the pro-Tory swing is still a sizeable 10.5 per cent, enough to give David Cameron a majority of 110.

On both scenarios Labour would end up with fewer than 200 MPs. It would be their worst result since the second world war - worse even than the drubbing they received from Margaret Thatcher in her prime in 1983.

Labour could suffer their worst result since the second world war - worse even than the drubbing they received from Margaret Thatcher in her prime in 1983.

But, of course, there isn't an election this week. It could be almost two years away. What lessons does the poll offer the two main parties?

For the Conservatives, the message is: don't blow it. You are generally seen as a united party with an effective leader. However, there are some downsides you need to address. David Cameron is seen as a lightweight. Millions remain unconvinced that your party is more competent than it was in the nineties to run the economy. And most people feel that experience matters more than new thinking when it comes to steering Britain through our current economic troubles.

For Labour, the message is: you have a mountain to climb. Your party is seen as badly divided, and with a leader who is indecisive and out of touch. Even most Labour voters think ministers don't understand the problems faced by ordinary people. You need to persuade voters you are really united, and are doing the right things to tackle our economic problems. Right now, they are deeply sceptical.

Would Labour do better with a new leader? Our survey finds no evidence that it would. Asked who would make the better prime minister, David Cameron leads Gordon Brown by a mile. But he leads David Miliband by a mile-and-a-quarter. In any event, most people - and a large majority of Labour voters - want Brown to carry on.

However, should Brown go, there's a clear preference for a real contest to succeed him, even though this would take six weeks, rather than for a new leader to take over without a real election. And most voters in Battleground Britain would want a new prime minister to call an election within six months.

Who would that new leader be? By far the largest number of voters are "don't knows". Among those who do have an opinion, it's a tight race between Jack Straw and David Miliband. But, of course, if Brown does go, his successor will be chosen by the Labour party, not by ordinary voters.

* For those who fret over these things, we have taken account of boundary changes. Our survey was in the 60 seats where Labour MPs are defending majorities of 6-14% on the new boundaries.

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