There’s a nasty shock for the Tories in the Times this morning, with the paper publishing a YouGov poll suggesting the party could lose 20 seats at next week’s election. The estimate says that we could be heading for a hung parliament and that the Conservatives might fall 16 seats short of an overall majority. Even more remarkably, YouGov’s numbers indicate Labour could up their tally of seats by almost 30.
It’s difficult to overestimate just what a disaster such an outcome would be for Theresa May. The Prime Minister made the decision to call this election herself with only the guidance of her tightly-knit Downing Street team; if she fails next Thursday, May would have no one else to blame but herself. When the PM made the snap announcement, she said that the political ‘game playing’ would continue unless the Government could boost its majority. May also said that ‘the only way to guarantee certainty and stability for the years ahead is to hold this election and seek your support for the decisions I must take’. If the Tories lose seats, the only conclusion, by the PM’s own yardstick, would be that voters don’t support her Brexit blueprint. The knives would be out for Theresa May – and the bungled social care announcement, which has already sparked fury among many Conservative candidates, would come under further attack. Again, Theresa May would find it impossible to point the finger elsewhere.
A few weeks ago, this poll would have been unthinkable. At the start of the month, the only question seemed to be how high the Tories’ lead in the polls could reach. Now, there’s a different question: will the Tories even manage a majority?
YouGov are, admittedly, careful to couch their estimate with a big dollop of caution. The Times report says that the model used ‘allows for a wide margin of error’. While YouGov’s Stephen Shakespeare says the poll is ‘just a snapshot’. But there are plenty of reasons for the Tories to be alarmed. YouGov claim the methodology behind the numbers predicted Brexit. And the poll says that even on a ‘good night’ for the Tories the party could land only 15 more seats. Given the amount of talk about a Tory landslide – which, inevitably, hugely raised expectations – such an outcome would hardly be a ringing endorsement of Theresa May. With eight days until polling day, Downing Street and the Tories will be feeling very worried indeed this morning.