Marginal Territory: the seats that will decide the next election

By Lord Ashcroft

Marginal constituencies decide the outcome of elections. In 2010, though the Conservatives did not achieve the national vote share they wanted, the party’s targeting strategy meant it won 23 more Labour seats and 9 more Liberal Democrat seats than it would have done on a uniform swing. Had it not been for the Conservative performance in the marginals, Labour would have been the largest parliament and would have continued in government.

The voters in marginal seats receive, no doubt to their delight, a great deal more attention from the parties than anyone else. But not all marginal seats are the same. Not only are they contested by different parties, they are home to different kinds of people and face a variety of different circumstances. Not only can the state of play in the marginals look rather different from the national polls, different kinds of marginal seat can look rather different from each other.

Now that we are past the midway point in the parliament – and now that it’s clear that the constituency boundaries will not be changing before the next election – I decided it was time for a proper look at the marginal territory where it will be decided who enters 10 Downing Street on 8 May 2015 and whether or not they have an overall majority at their command.

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What Are The Liberal Democrats for?

By Lord Ashcroft

The mood at the Liberal Democrat Spring Conference this weekend will perhaps be more cheerful than at any such gathering since the start of the coalition. The Eastleigh by-election apparently vindicates Nick Clegg’s approach to government, and his party’s approach to campaigning.

His activists will be relieved to think that pavement politics is back; that despite the polls, strong local government and an invincible leaflet-dropping network will see many or even most of their incumbent MPs safely back to Westminster in two years’ time. Certainly the Eastleigh victory was a considerable achievement for the Liberal Democrats, and there is no doubt, as my research has suggested for some time, that the party remains stronger as a local force that the national numbers suggest.

But that is not the whole story.

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We know how Eastleigh voted. Here’s why

By Lord Ashcroft

The day after a by-election it rarely helps to panic. Neither does it help to speculate about who voted for whom, or why. To avoid the need to do so, yesterday I polled people in the Eastleigh constituency after they had cast their vote. The sample of 760 is inevitably smaller than usual, given the time constraint, and though it is not politically weighted in the usual way it is a fair representation of those who voted. This is what I found.

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Liberal Democrats have 5-point edge in Eastleigh

By Lord Ashcroft

With two days to go, the Liberal Democrats have the edge in the Eastleigh by-election. My latest poll finds a 5-point lead for Mike Thornton over Conservative candidate Maria Hutchings. Labour’s share has been squeezed since the start of the campaign, with John O’Farrell in fourth place behind UKIP’s Diane James, who has progressed to 21%.

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Electoral Commission rejects SNP’s biased referendum question

By Lord Ashcroft

A year ago I wrote that no self-respecting pollster would ask the question that Alex Salmond planned to put before the people of Scotland in his referendum. The Electoral Commission has come to the same conclusion, rejecting the SNP’s proposed formulation – “Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?” – and ruling that more neutral wording must be used.

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Tories start ahead in Eastleigh – but it’s going to be a battle

By Lord Ashcroft

The Conservatives enter the Eastleigh by-election campaign with a narrow lead over the Liberal Democrats. A poll I conducted over the two evenings immediately following Chris Huhne’s resignation put the Tories on 34%, with the Lib Dems on 31% and Labour on 19%. The result shows that both coalition parties have everything to play for in the three weeks to polling day on 28 February.

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My memorable night at the inaugural Paddy Power and Total Politics book awards

By Lord Ashcroft

Last night I spent a hugely enjoyable evening at the launch of the Paddy Power and Total Politics Political Book Awards in central London.

It was an enormous privilege for me to be in the company of the great and the good from the worlds of politics and publishing at the event staged at the BFI IMAX in Waterloo.

The two co-sponsors were united in their determination to highlight excellence across all areas of political publishing. It is long overdue that the brilliant work of our political authors was more widely acclaimed.

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Former Treasurer Peter Cruddas wins another victory in his bid to clear his name

By Lord Ashcroft

Peter Cruddas, the former Conservative Party Treasurer, has received yet another boost in his on-going legal battle to clear his name.

Mr Cruddas was awarded earlier this week £45,000 in damages (plus costs) against Mark Adams, the lobbyist and blogger, whose original tip to The Sunday Times led to their undercover investigation against him. Mr Adams has publicly apologised for wrongly – and repeatedly – accusing Mr Cruddas of breaking the law relating to political donations. The full judgement is here.
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The Europe speech has cheered Tories, not moved votes

By Lord Ashcroft

The policy contained in the Prime Minister’s speech of ten days ago was a good answer to the question “what should we do about Europe?” It was never, I hope, supposed to answer the question “what will ensure we win?” If anyone expected an immediate leap in the Conservative Party’s popularity, the evidence should by now have disabused them of the notion. Polling I completed earlier this week shows little change in the bigger political picture.

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So we’ve got a Europe policy – now all we need is a Tory government

By Lord Ashcroft

Whatever David Cameron said today was going to displease somebody. For those who want to leave the EU tomorrow he could never go far enough; for those who want to stay at any cost, including his coalition partners, any suggestion that the British people might be allowed to decide for themselves would be a dangerous manoeuvre.

Given the constraints, I think the PM has hit on a pretty reasonable plan. A Conservative government will legislate immediately after the next election for a referendum. It will negotiate for a new settlement with the EU, and the people will give their verdict in the first half of the parliament.

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