At the end of the Daily Mail's report of a YouGov poll today, a spokesman for the pollster is quoted as saying: "When we take all factors into account, including the incumbency "bonus" likely to be enjoyed by Conservative MPs newly elected in 2010, Labour and the Conservatives both need around a 7 per cent lead in order to secure an overall majority in 2015". The comment is a reminder that our series this week on what David Cameron's negotiation red lines is timely.
Respondents to our poll have had their say on where those lines should be drawn. Here is mine. It's important to remember what would happen were the Liberal Democrats - or perhaps another minority party - to step over them and refuse to move. Cameron would have either to back down, or break off the talks. The consequence could be a Conservative minority government...or a Lab/Lib coalition...or even a Labour minority government. There's no way of knowing.
In the event of Cameron leading the largest party after the 2015 election, it may be that the best course will be for the Conservatives to go it alone. But in my view, that is not a decision that can be fixed on now. In such circumstances, a second Coalition could be the best option available to the country and the Party, if the right terms can be agreed. And that means red lines - not, I believe, lots of little dabs on the pavement, but a few clear markings. My top three would be:
I wrote yesterday that it is perhaps surprising not to see the economy or tax in the top five issues raised by respondents to our "red lines" poll. It's therefore necessary to say today that an economic issue came in sixth. On a scale of one to ten, in which one represents "very negotiable" and ten "non-negotiable", the statement "the structural deficit should be eliminated by 2017/2018, if not sooner" scored a eight - coming in only a fraction behind those top five issues - an In/Out EU referendum and renegotation; the reduction and equalisation of constituencies; keeping or lowering the benefits cap; keeping or lowering the immigration cap and pressing ahead with the development of shale gas.
Here are the remaining scores of economy and tax-related issues:
There are in some cases only marginal differences between the scores, so it follows that not too much should be read into them. However, it's worth noting that the proposal for the restoration of the 10p income tax band, supported on this site by Robert Halfon and opposed by Andrew Lilico comes in bottom of this list.
I reported yesterday that the top "red line" for Conservative Party members for any coalition negotiations with the Liberal Democrats after the 2015 election is holding the In/Out EU referendum in 2017 - after the promised renegotiation.
If these commitments are treated as one, the next four red lines in our members' poll came in as follows. On a scale of one to ten, with one representing "very negotiable" and ten representing "non negotiable", all came in at eight, with very marginal differences beween them, as follows:
I am not at all sure that the reduction and equalisation of seats will be in the Tory manifesto, given events in this Parliament, but the priority which members give to the move reflects their frustration and anger with how the Liberal Democrats behaved.
The benefits and immigration caps are popular with members as well as voters, and their ranking reflects that. There is unabashed enthusiasm for shale. It's perhaps surprising not to see the economy or tax in the top five issues. We will turn to them tomorrow.
By Paul Goodman
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Utterly unsurprisingly, holding the promised In/Out EU referendum in 2015 was the top "red line" issue for any future Conservative/Liberal Democrat negotiations in our survey which over 800 Conservative Party members answered. We asked respondents to list a series of issues on a scale of one to ten, with one representing "very negotiable" and ten representing "non negotiable". Both "In-Out referendum on Britain's EU membership in 2017" and "Attempt to renegotiate Britain's relationship with the EU" came in at 8.5.
"Britain should leave the ECHR" scored seven. I suspect that party members' priorities are the other way round in this respect from voters, given the public reaction to the Court's "votes for prisoners" rulings. (Policy Exchange's research in Northern Lights, which looked at a series of wedge issues, found 70 per cent of respondents believing that "human rights have become a charter for the criminals and undeserving".) Six per cent believe that a British Bill of Rights should be introduced.
Turning to the Commons, Britain's relationship with Europe is clearly a very significant issue for Conservative MPs, as the history of rebellions in this Parliament confirms and as Philip Cowley and Mark Stuart suggested on this site in May. It's impossible to know what their view would be of any proposal to re-form the Coalition with the Liberal Democrats, but my best guess is that David Cameron would find it impossible to drop the 2017 referendum (presuming he wished to) - because Tory MPs' views on holding it are not all that different from Party members'.
Recent opinion polls written up by Anthony Wells of YouGov show the Conservatives at 34, 33 and 33 per cent, and Labour at 38, 37 and 37 per cent. Let's apply three conclusions. First, neither of the main parties is in a strong position. Second, David Cameron has closed the gap on Ed Miliband, and may well close it further if economic recovery continues. Third, the former has to get anywhere between ten to seven points ahead of the latter to win a majority, thanks to Britain's vote distribution - unless you buy Peter Kellner's imaginary scenario of a disproportionately good result for the Conservatives in key marginals.
In short, prudent Tories shouldn't rule out the possibility - to put it no higher - of the next election producing much the same result as the last one, and thus think ahead. What should the Party do in such an event? Should it take a different road from that taken in 2010, and urge the formation of a Conservative minority government? Should it seek to come to a deal with one or more of the minor parties, such as Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionists? Or should it follow the same path as last time, and seek to re-form the Coalition with the Liberal Democrats? And if it makes the last choice, what should Cameron's "red lines" be?
By Peter Hoskin
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Another set of not-much-change-from-last-month survey results – but we’ll note them down anyway, for completeness’ sake.
These are to do with the Coalition, its duration and whether there should be a repeat after the next election. First up, the question of when the current Coalition should end. Tory members responded much as they did last month, although there is a slight movement away from it ending this year or next, and towards it ending shortly before the general election:
By Peter Hoskin
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Last month, I characterised our Cabinet league table as a “summer bounce”, with stronger numbers for many of ministers listed. This month, it’s more of an autumnal lull: the overall positions are more or less the same (it’s the same top three and the same bottom three, with only a slight reordering in between), but most ministers’ approval ratings have flattened out or declined. We conducted our survey of Conservative Party members around last week’s Syria vote, so that might have made a difference – but I'm not sure whether it explains why, say, Jeremy Hunt has lost 9 points off his rating. My guess is more that the general optimism of the early summer recess has faded somewhat. Anyway, here’s the table:
> Over 2000 people responded to the survey, of which over 800 were Conservative Party members. The survey began before and ended after the Syria vote.
The three leading contenders from last month's poll have thus pulled ahead of the next two down.
Boris maintains his narrow one point lead over Gove, and May's recent advance inches further forward.
We asked in our monthly survey, posted on this site on Wednesday: "Should Britain join the US and France in prosecuting missile strikes against the Assad regime in Syria?" Here are the responses from Conservative members:
In other words, nearly half of Tory member respondents were opposed to such strikes. But they were outnumbered by those supporting them, though of the 54 per cent doing so, 42 per cent set the condition of UN approval or Parliamentary approval - or both.