Opinion polls

Labour is doing well where it ought to do well – but that might not be enough

Labour will take heart from Lord Ashcroft’s latest survey of marginal seats. This time he’s sampled opinion in what he calls the “wider battleground” – constituencies not right at the top of Labour’s target list, where gains are pretty much guaranteed, but those a bit further down. These are seats which could mean the difference between a hung parliament where Labour is the biggest party, or one in which the Tories could once again try and form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats.

In the eight Labour targets he polled, Ashcroft found an average swing from Conservative to Labour of 6.5%. This would be enough for Labour to gain all of the eight in question: Carlisle, Weaver Vale, Lincoln, Plymouth Sutton & Devonport, Stroud, Bedford, Dewsbury and Warrington South.

But it’s important to bear in mind these are not tough targets for Labour. Look at the size of their majorities:

Majorities in wider Tory-Lab marginals

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Wales: slim pickings for all parties

The current distribution of seats in Wales masks a mixed picture for all the main parties, including Labour.

Despite its numeral dominance, Labour is far from the force it was once in this part of the UK and many of its seats now have slim majorities. The Tories’ fortunes have revived markedly since the party’s obliteration in 1997, to the extent that it is no longer particularly vulnerable here. And Plaid Cymru has dug in deep enough to be modestly confident of fighting off all challengers. It is only really the Liberal Democrats for whom the 2015 general election promises no positives.

Welsh constituencies

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Election forecasts

What’s the minimum the Tories need to do to remain in government?

Arithmetically, not very much.

One scenario for the 2015 election sees the Tories managing to hold pretty much all the seats they won in 2010, while losing a few to Labour but gaining some from the Liberal Democrats in return.

Do they decide, unlike last time, to try and form a minority government? The main reason the Conservatives cited in 2010 for going into coalition with the Lib Dems – the “economic crisis” – no longer applies. Were the party to once again fall short of the number of seats needed for an absolute majority (326) but only by two dozen or so, a minority government would undoubtedly be an option.

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Election forecasts

Predicting the result: three websites to watch

It’s clear we’re going to be spoiled between now and May with the greatest number of polls and forecasts ever published in a British general election campaign.

Among all the rogue snapshots and speculation, however, we’re already being blessed with a handful of predictions based less on instinct and trends and more on formulae and calculations.

These are well worth keeping an eye on, not least as a corrective to my own monthly forecasts (which to be fair I don’t claim to be anything more than informed guesswork).

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Election campaign

Six numbers that will define the election

At their irreducible core, general elections are about mathematics.

It matters not a jot in which constituency Boris Johnson decides to stand if all he does is replace one Tory MP (i.e. John Randall) with another (himself). He hasn’t helped his party add to its 2010 total of seats; he has only helped himself into parliament.

Equally it doesn’t matter in the slightest if Labour manages to see off the Tory threat to each and every one of its marginal seats, but then fails to win anything off them in return. Swings to Labour are worthless in Labour seats. Swings in Tory seats are the only ones that count.

The outcome of the 2015 election will come down to numbers. Here are six of them.

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Election campaign

Mark Simmonds: a casualty not of Ukip, but the ‘early doors’ election

We were always going to get a flurry of MPs announcing they were standing down at the next election. What’s surprising is that it’s happening so late in the life of this parliament.

Mark Simmonds is the latest to go, and though there doesn’t appear to be any subtext to his departure (he’s been pretty open about his reasons), the timing is unfortunate. There’s an impression at the moment of MPs jumping ship at the rate of almost one a week. David Cameron’s reshuffle in July revealed William Hague, David Willetts and Andrew Lansley were all bowing out. David Ruffley, Dan Byles, Mike Weatherley and James Clappison are among the Tory backbenchers to have joined them over the past month. And it’s not just the government: in recent weeks we’ve had Labour’s Frank Dobson, David Blunkett and Austin Mitchell all say they are off in 2015, likewise the Lib Dems’ Ian Swales.

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