Battleground Yorkshire: John Curtice reveals the story behind Labour's poll lead

Pollsters believe the best way to tell who wins an election is to ask the public. Though the results of these polls in recent months are showing a Labour lead, the variation is striking.

Since the start of March we have seen leads of between 14 and 28 points for Sir Keir Starmer. The difference between them is the difference between the Conservatives having a viable electoral future in the next decade, or them not.

“The honest truth is that things are looking pretty bad for the Conservatives,” says Professor John Curtice, the infamous political scientist who now plies his trade at the University of Strathclyde.

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“On average, the Conservatives are on about 25 points, that is 20 points down on what they achieved in 2019, and means that they are basically bumping along at the same level they were in the immediate wake of the downfall of Liz Truss in October 2022.

Polling expert Sir John Curtice.Polling expert Sir John Curtice.
Polling expert Sir John Curtice.

“The big headline is that the project Rishi Sunak was meant to deliver, to reverse the damage done by Liz Truss’ fiscal event, has so far made no discernible long-term progress.”

Labour, meanwhile, are slightly down on where they were at the time, when the party was at the giddy heights of more than half of public support.

Professor Curtice says that this support can be traced back to two turning points, which may have now sealed the Conservatives’ fate for a lengthy spell on the opposition benches.

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“Public opinion is partly to do with push factors and partly to do with pull factors,” he says, with former meaning factors that have alienated previous support, and the latter referring to the things which are drawing new supporters to the cause.

“If you look at the history of what’s happened in this parliament, there are really two crucial events, and really just two periods of six weeks where we are now at the consequence of.”

The first is Partygate, where the Tories lost six points in six weeks and Labour moved into the lead for the first time.

The second is the Liz Truss mini-budget, which saw the party haemorrhage a further six points in the same time period.

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Labour’s pull factors, Professor Curtice says, come from the Labour leader convincing voters that the party is moderate, and no longer extreme, rather than any irresistible magnetism from Sir Keir.

“Labour have made themselves sufficiently acceptable to be a repository of protest, at a time when the Government has made a hash of what was undoubtedly a difficult hand, given the pandemic and war in Ukraine,” he adds.

Beyond the national polls, one of the best indications we can use to predict what will happen for Yorkshire is using a relatively new, but now-revered, type of poll called multilevel regression and poststratification, or MRP.

This uses a national sample of voters to predict who will win in a smaller area, such as a region like Yorkshire and the constituencies within it.

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So far this year we have had two, one from YouGov in January, and the other from Electoral Calculus last month.

The one detailed above in our graphic is from Electoral Calculus, which the company’s founder says looks to show how the “Conservative era crashes to a close”.

YouGov’s poll suggested that the Conservatives are on around 26 per cent, which would see them win 169 seats at the next election (down from 356 in 2019), eight of which are in Yorkshire, while Labour are on almost 40 per cent, the equivalent of 385 seats (up from 202 in 2019) 45 of which are in Yorkshire.

Electoral Calculus was a bleaker picture, with the Tories on 22 per cent to Labour’s 42, with the parties winning 80 and 452 seats respectively. In Yorkshire Labour picked up two further seats (Skipton and Ripon, and Bridlington and the Wolds) on top of what YouGov predicted.

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“Yorkshire is somewhat more pro-Labour than the country as a whole despite the gains that the Conservatives made back in 2019 in the region,” Professor Curtice says.

Though the new boundary changes make the situation slightly more challenging for Labour, with analysis suggesting that both main parties would be on 27 seats if those had been in place at the previous election, the evidence still points to many of these seats being won back.

“Yorkshire, as has long been the case, does have quite a high proportion of seats that are relatively marginal (won within a 10 point margin), there were 17 such seats in the wake of the 2019 election, the majority held on by a relatively narrow thread by Labour,” he adds.

“The Conservatives have a striking mixture of a number of seats which are relatively marginal, and eight which have majorities of 35 points or more, which you would think would be safe in pretty much any circumstance.”

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The key words are “pretty safe”, and will be stress-tested by Richard Tice’s Reform UK, who will soon be setting out on a tour of Red Wall seats with Lee Anderson, who like much of the Tory base, has switched allegiances.

“If you look at the GB-wide polls, they’re basically saying that for every one person who has switched from Tory to Labour since 2019, there is another one who says that they would vote Reform.

“In terms of votes, they now pose as much a challenge to the Conservatives as Labour.”

These switchers in Yorkshire are the difference between a bad and a terrible night for the Tories at the election.

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Electoral Calculus places the Tories on 6 seats, but all of these, including Rishi Sunak’s constituency of Richmond and Northallerton, are only holding on with majorities of 10 per cent or less.

“The support for the Conservatives is going down more in places where they were previously strongest. In part, this is an arithmetical inevitability.

“Given that the Conservative Party is close to losing almost half the support it had in 2019, the idea of a safe conservative seat is going to be very rare.

“There aren't there aren't that many Conservative MPs at the moment who can be absolutely 100% sure that they are going to be safe.

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“Though it is probably true that the Prime Minister, with what is still a 47 per cent lead in Richmond, is probably safe, though, whether or not he will still be leader of the Conservative Party in the wake of the Conservative Party losing is probably a different question.”

Many Tory MPs who won their seat for the first time in 2019 can expect a poll bounce when defending against Labour this time around, says Professor Curtice, but this may not be enough to escape the tidal wave of a 20-point lead.

“In constituencies which were for the first time and the party is now losing, the swing against them tends to be somewhat lower.

“A new MP has every incentive to be active in the constituency and diverts a bit of a personal vote. That might be worth a couple of points off the swing. It’s not going to save you in Keighley (currently held by Robbie Moore by 4.2 per cent).

“Like every other red wall seat, they're all highly marginal, and given the strength of the swing at the moment, it's not going to save the local MPs' bacon.”