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This Week’s General Election 2017 Analysis

The UK General Election polls continue to show the Conservatives clearly ahead of Labour, but the size of the lead varies considerably from poll-to-poll. Surveys over the last week have given the Conservatives a lead ranging from 11% to 24%.

The General Election is top of this week’s most noticed news stories, having caught the attention of 30% of the public. Brexit follows in second place at 12%, showing that it continues to be a key part of public discourse.

The focus is on high-profile UK politicians

Theresa May is the fifth most noticed by the public, in the same week that details of the PM’s dinner with European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker were leaked. Diane Abbott’s miscalculations on Labour’s police policy which aired live on LBC Radio secures her place in this week’s top 10 most noticed news stories.

And their beards

Jeremy Corbyn’s beard is the focus of The Economist‘s look at an election oddity. He is the first party leader of a mainstream British political party with a beard since Keir Hardie, and the article tracks the history of political beards, including New Labour’s clampdown on them, and recent polling suggesting they are growing in popularity again.

Local and mayoral elections

Correct at time of writing (2pm on Friday 5th May)

In every election cycle politicians and pundits alike look to local elections to provide an indicator of each party’s strength in the run up to a general election. Theresa May’s decision to call a snap general election on 8th June intensified focus on Thursday’s results; this being the first time since 1987 that local elections have been held only a month before a general election.

With the two polls so close together, the temptation to translate local election results into predictions for the general election has never been greater.

Thursday’s results do offer insight into each party’s prospects next month, but Populus cautions against predicting June’s outcome using direct inferences from yesterday’s result.

What we know so far

Historically, opposition parties perform better at local elections than they do at general elections as voters use them to register their dissatisfaction with the Government.

In 2014 Labour gained councillors and control of councils but those gains proved insufficient to prepare the party for victory at the general election a year later. Prior to Thursday, the Conservatives controlled 28 of the 34 councils that were holding elections in England.

Labour was never expected to mount substantial challenges in these areas but as an opposition party with ambitions of winning power in June, losing, rather than gaining, councillors should cause great discomfort for the Labour party.

In contrast, the Conservatives’ advances in all parts of the country, including across Scotland where the Conservatives have won seats in Paisley and Fife (historic Labour strongholds), suggest that the opinion polls are accurately capturing voters’ support for the Conservatives.

Results so far indicate around a 7% swing from Labour to the Conservatives in England but much of the Conservative gain has also come as result of a UKIP collapse. In Lincolnshire, for example, an area where voters supported Brexit by around 75%, UKIP lost all 13 of its seats. Having achieved its raison d’être in the referendum last June, UKIP now faces a significant challenge persuading voters that it is still relevant.

Results for the Liberal Democrats are mixed. At the time of writing, they have a net loss of 27 councillors, slipping back in rural areas that supported Brexit; for example, Wrexham, Somerset, and Warwickshire. Certainly, these local election results, combined with an average of around 10% in the national polls, do not imply the Liberal Democrats have the foundations for major seat gains in a month’s time.

Finally, a caveat about turnout. Turnout at local elections is typically around 30%; about half that expected in a general election.

Nonetheless, these local election results seem to only offer encouragement to one party – the Conservatives.

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