According to Lord Ashcroft – who regardless of your feelings about the man, is reliable when it comes to polling (although of course one can question his motives) – Labour lead by 15 points in the first Corby specific poll. The Ashcroft poll, released this morning on ConHome, puts Labour on 52%, Tories on 37% and the Lib Dems on just 7%.
As Tim Montgomerie put it in his analysis this morning “In the battle of expectations this poll helps to take the sting out of likely defeat”. The Tory Party will take heed of that line – off the record of course – if it looks like we’re going to win. Labour sources will no doubt counter that this is a tough seat for Labour to win, and that we’ll be looking to improve our vote, or somesuch. We certainly aren’t taking anything for granted, they’ll say – we’re fighting for every vote.
The fact is, expectation management be damned, this is a key seat for both parties, and both will be devastated if they lose. If Labour fails to win, it will be held up as conclusive proof that our polling lead is soft and that Ed Miliband isn’t cutting through in marginal, Middle England constituencies. Losing wouldn’t be Ed’s Crewe and Nantwich – it’d be worse – because losing a seat that you hold whilst an unpopular government is bad but often inevitable, failing to gain a key marginal when you’re a popular and fresh opposition is unthinkable. It will drown out any successes in PCC elections and the other two by-elections in Cardiff and Manchester. Rob Marchant is right, it’s a must win seat for Labour.
But the same can also be said for the Tories – especially David Cameron. His party have mocked Miliband as a lightweight and Labour as a party without a plan for Britain. For the people of Corby – a seat his party only won in 2010 and need to retain to have any chance of a majority in 2015 – to turn their backs on Cameron so soon and rush into the open arms of Ed Miliband would be a body blow. And it would obviously trigger more comments like this one from Boris Johnson today. And the knives being sharped on the backbenches would get longer and sharper, and start cleaving their way between the PM’s shoulderblades.
Make no mistake – this by-election is crucial. And crucial for everyone involved, whatever expectation management games might be played between now and election day.