Ed Miliband’s hopes for the election were boosted last night by a poll showing Labour had opened up a four-point lead over the Tories following last week’s televised contest between him and David Cameron.
The YouGov poll for the Sunday Times, taken after Thursday’s Channel 4/Sky TV grilling for the two party leaders by Jeremy Paxman put Labour on 36%, and the Conservatives on 32%. If replicated on 7 May, this share of the vote could give Labour a lead of more than 60 seats in the House of Commons.
It would put Labour within striking distance of a Commons majority despite the threat posed to the party in Scotland by the SNP. The findings will encourage Labour MPs and activists, who had been buoyed by Miliband’s confident TV performance during which he remained composed under sustained pressure from Paxman.
A separate Opinium poll for the Observer, conducted on Tuesday and Wednesday, before the debate, suggests that the election will be neck and neck. It put the Tories one point ahead on 34%, down two on the week before, with Labour on 33%. Ukip is on 13% (-1), the Lib Dems up one point on 8% and the Greens also up one point on 7%.
While YouGov’s figures will alarm the Tories, and raise questions about the conduct of the Tory campaign by Australian strategist Lynton Crosby, most polls in recent weeks have shown the election to be too close to call.
YouGov’s findings came after Cameron declared the election to be on a knife edge on Saturday, as he made a blistering personal attack on the Labour leader.
Launching the Conservative election campaign at the party’s spring conference in Manchester, the prime minister sought to focus minds on the choice for voters on 7 May as he tore into Miliband as too weak to run the country, and the party he leads as a “bunch of hypocritical, holier-than-thou, hopeless, sneering socialists”.
“The countdown is on,” said Cameron. “Forty days to say this is a knife-edge election and it can only be cut two ways: Conservative or Labour. Britain on the rise, or turning the clock back.” He added: “This is a high-stakes, high-risk election.”
Cameron will visit the Queen in Buckingham Palace tomorrow to seek the dissolution of parliament and trigger the general election.
Some Conservatives fear personalised attacks on Miliband could backfire, but Cameron refused to pull any punches. “Some might say: ‘Don’t make this personal’, but when it comes to who’s prime minister, the personal is national.
“The guy who forgot to mention the deficit could be the one in charge of our whole economy. The man who is too weak to stand up to the trade unions at home could be the one facing down our enemies abroad.
“The leader who thinks leadership is climbing aboard the latest bandwagon – he could be the one taking the make-or-break calls in the middle of the night,” he said.
Meanwhile SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon issued a direct challenge to Miliband to pledge that Labour would join forces with the SNP after the general election. Positioning the SNP firmly in traditional Labour territory on the House of Lords, the NHS and minimum wage, the Scottish first minister reiterated her commitment not to put the Tories into government should the nationalists hold the balance of power after the election.
This article was written by Toby Helm and Libby Brooks, for theguardian.com on Sunday 29th March 2015 00.03 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010