The Tory formula: ignore the polls

WIDE-EYED – opponents would say naive – Conservative MPs sat through a presentation a few weeks back by Party Co-Chairman Dr Liam Fox entitled "Overstating Labour.

By Graham Dines

WIDE-EYED – opponents would say naive – Conservative MPs sat through a presentation a few weeks back by Party Co-Chairman Dr Liam Fox entitled "Overstating Labour."

Dr Fox argued that opinion polls in past election campaigns had distorted the true political picture. He used as his text: "In every election since 1955, with only two exceptions, the final opinion polls have overstated Labour support."

He told his MPs: "Remember, in January 1997, Labour had a lead of 25% over the Conservatives – in the event they won by 13%.

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"In 2001, Labour had a lead of 19%. They won by 9% – a loss of 10%. In November 2004, Labour had a lead of 10%. It is now 5%," he told the excited conclave.

Because of boundary distortions, the Tories have to be 9% ahead in the share of the vote to get a working majority. But strategists at Central Office believe that Labour's 5% average current lead will unwind with the end of tactical anti-Tory voting and that the current poll of polls, adjusted to the same polling statistical inaccuracies, puts the Conservatives ahead in support – 34.64% to Labour's 33.64% and the Lib Dems on 22.51%.

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"This would give a Labour majority of 8," concluded Dr Fox. Hugs and kisses all round.

Further Tory optimism is founded on those who say they will definitely vote – 72% of Tories, 64% of Liberal Democrats and 55% of Labour's supporters.

"This compares with 2001 – Conservatives 61%, Labour 59%, Liberal Democrat 64% and represents around one million extra votes for the Tories."

It might no quite be the time to put the champagne on ice. Electoral Calculus, a scientific analysis of current polling trends, still forecasts a Labour overall majority of 134. The truth, I suspect, is somewhere between the Tories' optimism and current polls.

Labour seems privately resigned to losing East of England seats Hemel Hempstead, Watford and Peterborough to the Tories as well as "dead certs" Braintree and Welwyn-Hatfield, but are not yet ready to give up on Harwich, Great Yarmouth and Cambridge.

If the Tories pick up five seats in our region, and average five in London and the other regions and nations of Britain, that's an extra 55 seat, propelling them to around 220. They seem likely to gain but also lose a few seats in a musical chairs with the Liberal Democrats.

Increasing Tory hopes centre around recent key initiatives. This week they pledged to cut council tax by £500 a year for 3.8 million households with pensioners aged 65 and over, and they lead Labour in the policy areas of immigration, asylum, and law and order.

And so we turn attention to the election, which is where Politico's Guide to the General Election 2005** comes into its own.

Written by Simon Henig and Lewis Baston, the 520 page tome packed with statistics of past elections and analysis of marginal constituencies is a dream publication for political editors and election pundits.

It cuts through the political hype and party bravado to give a sensible overview of the battleground seats in which this election will be fought.

Here's some examples from the section on the East of England:

Braintree (held by Labour) –If there is any sort of Conservative recovery (and that appears likely . . . ) Tory candidate Brooks Newmark should succeed at his second attempt on the seat.

Colchester (Liberal Democrat) – Bob Russell is in a strong position to hold the seat, given the continued tactical pressure on third placed Labour and the weak performance of the Conservatives in 2001.

Harwich (Labour) – It is not completely impossible to imagine Ivan Henderson winning again.

Watford (Labour) – Any of the three major parties could win.

Waveney (Labour) – Labour's performance in local and European elections has been sufficiently wretched to suggest the potential for a close battle.

**Politico's Guide to the General Election, ISBN 1-84275-073-9, price £9.99,

FIVE senior MPs – Kenneth Clarke, Robin Cook, Paul Tyler, Tony Wright and George Young – this week published a draft Bill calling for a largely elected upper chamber to replace the House of Lords.

Kenneth Clarke and Sir George Young (Conservative), Robin Cook and Tony Wright (Labour) and Paul Tyler (Liberal Democrat) are leading the demands, but influential MPs from all parties have already joined the chorus.

The Prime Minister has been dithering on what to do with the second chamber, having evicted all but 91 hereditary peers. He does not want to lose the patronage of appointing Labour yes men to the House of Lords, which is s dominated by the Tories.

With the law lords being consigned to a new Supreme Court, there are growing calls for a largely elected second House, although Anglican prelates are likely to remain because of the constitutional importance of the established Church of England.

"This draft Bill offers the Government a sensible way forwards on Lords reform," said Ken Ritchie, the Electoral Reform Society's Chief Executive.

"The Prime Minister needs to recognise that Labour's commitment to a democratic second chamber cannot be squared with an appointed one. We have always argued the need for a proportional representation for the Lords, and a system of PR which gives voters as much choice as possible. The authors of the Bill have clearly taken these points on board in recommending the Single Transferable Vote system.

"The important thing is that we agree the fundamentals - direct elections using a system that provides both proportionality and voter choice - and restart the process of reform," said Mr Ritchie.

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