Labour take lead in YouGov poll as battle commences

It’s billed as the tightest election for 40 years – yet only a fraction of MPs need fear losing their seats

Columnist Don Brind

The political frontline is moving from the Palace of Westminster to Britain’s doorsteps for the final six-week stage of the election campaign. Today Parliament is ‘prorogued’ and on Monday it will be dissolved, at which point MPs will effectively cease to exist: they even have to remove the title ‘MP’ from their websites.

This is being billed as the closest general election for 40 years, with current polling still showing the Tories and Labour neck-and-neck. Today’s YouGov poll gives Labour a one-point advantage: Con 34 (down 1), Lab 35 (u/c) , Lib Dems 8 (u/c), Ukip 12 (u/c), Greens 6 (u/c).

Yet the vast majority of MPs packing their bags at Westminster have little to fear. Of the 650 sitting MPs, more than 500 are holders of safe seats and can bank on being re-elected.

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Eighty-six know they won’t be coming back – because they’ve had enough and are standing down. Some of them sat in safe seats, some are quitting marginals, leaving the dirty work to their successors.

In only 140 or so seats are the fates of the candidates at the mercy of the electors. They are the key marginals where a swing of only a few percentage points can cost a sitting MP his or her job.

If you want to know whether you have an MP you and a few friends could turf out by voting tactically, go to this list helpfully provided by Lord Ashcroft.

The list is made up of two Welsh, 23 Scottish and 121 English constituencies – and it is the fate of the latter which will determine who will be the leader of the biggest party in the Commons, David Cameron or Ed Miliband.

Every national and local poll carried out in the past four years shows a swing away from Cameron’s party. In 2010, the Tories outscored Labour by seven points – 37 per cent to 30 per cent. Current polling averages show the two parties neck-and-neck on 33 or 34 per cent - which means there’s been a swing to Labour of three or four per cent.

That’s enough to make 40 or 50 Conservative-held seats in England targets for Labour - and it’s in these consituencies that the Cameron-Miliband battle for ascendancy will be fought most keenly.

Ten of Labour’s targets are in London, ten in the Midlands, nine in the Northwest, five in the West Yorkshire, four in East Sussex and three in Norfolk, according to a list compiled by Ian Jones at UK General Election.

A second battleground is the Southwest where up to a dozen Lib Dem seats are under threat from the Tories. Labour has a similar number of Lib Dem targets but these are more scattered.

As for Scotland, well it’s just a matter of waiting to see how well the SNP can do. Current polling suggests they will take almost all of Labour’s 41 Scottish seats and most of the Lib Dems’ 11 seats.

It’s worth noting that while the SNP surge hurts Miliband, it doesn’t directly help Cameron. While the Nationalists will reduce Miliband’s chance of an overall majority, they are likely to “give back” by giving tacit support to a minority Labour government.

If you’d like to know whether your current MP is giving up and moving on, see here. The list includes many names known beyond their own households: Gordon Brown, Glenda Jackson, Hazel Blears, Ming Campbell, Alistair Darling, Peter Hain, Malcolm Rifkind, Jack Straw and David 'Two Brains' Willetts.

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is a former BBC lobby correspondent and Labour press officer who is watching the polls for The Week in the run-up to the 2015 election.