Yesterday, people were looking through the London details of YouGov’s shock “new model” poll for The Times, which sensationally found that the Conservatives’ might actually lose seats nationally and that we might wake on 9 June to find we have a hung parliament – an outcome that was practically unimaginable when campaigning began.
The company’s characterisations of many of the capital’s 73 seats seemed odd to the point of daft. Ealing Central and Acton, where Labour’s Rupa Huq is defending a majority of just 274, the second most marginal seat in town, had been labelled “Safe Labour”. So had Westminster North, where Karen Buck won by less than 2,000 votes last time.
Other Labour seats generally thought to be at risk were termed “Likely Labour”. Meanwhile, Kensington, which has been solidly Tory since the dawn of time, is called only “Lean Conservative” and Boris Johnson’s Uxbridge and south Ruislip only “Likely Conservative”. Was it really possibly that those two weren’t very safely blue?
One day later, it still seems they surely are. But a new, conventional YouGov poll published today has made some of the other designations look less strange. It finds that Labour enjoys the support of a huge 50% of London voters with the Conservatives gasping to stay in touch with just 33%.
If that 17% gap is projected on to the capital as a whole, it means Labour could actually gain two seats from the Tories (Croydon Central and Hendon) and so could the Liberal Democrats (Kingston and Surbiton and Twickenham). The Tories themselves would gain nothing.
Is all of this completely nuts? A few weeks ago it seemed fair to speculate that Labour would do better in London than elsewhere because that is what happened in 2010 and 2015 and maybe they would only lose three or four seats rather than eight or nine. But not this much better.
Is the latest “normal” poll a rogue? Not if you consider the results of another London-only one by YouGov conducted a week earlier – 19-23 May – and not released until now because of the Manchester bombing. It came up with almost exactly the same finding, differing for the two largest parties only in that the Tories were 1% higher.
Another benchmark is the YouGov London poll before that, published at the end of March. Like the two more recent ones, it was conducted on behalf of Queen Mary University of London. That gave Labour a lead of just three points over the Tories, a fall from 16 points a year previously. Conclusion? Whatever the accuracy of all the polls mentioned here, they collectively suggest that Labour has recovered its familiar dominant position in London. They question is, precisely how dominant?
I’m going to take a breath and predict that the Conservatives will win the election with an increased majority of at least 50. I admit that by “predict”, I mean “guess”. The guess, though, is informed by the fact that YouGov has consistently given the Tories narrower leads nationally over Labour than all the other polling companies and because it factors in a higher turnout among younger voters than most of them when quite a lot of younger people don’t actually get round to voting one the day.
But against all that we should consider YouGov’s record for calling election outcomes in London, both general and mayoral ones. It’s very good. And in 2015, although they were wrong like everyone else about the nation result, their final London-only surveys correctly pointed to Labour doing well.
Where might this leave us? Well, plenty of pollsters and pundits alike could end up with quite a lot of egg on their faces. But if YouGov is getting London even close to right again, but the country as a whole plumps firmly for Mrs May in spite of everything, then the great truth that London is very different from the rest of the UK is going to be underlined very heavily once more.