LABOUR are on course to win the Stroud constituency at the general election in 2015, according to a new poll commissioned by the Conservative Party peer and donor Lord Ashcroft.
The survey, carried out in mid-July, puts Labour 11 percentage points ahead of the Tories in Stroud, suggesting that the party will capture 41 per cent of the vote, compared to the Conservative Party’s 30 per cent.
If the outcome of the poll was to be replicated at ballot boxes across the Five Valleys in May, the result would represent a 6.5 per cent swing away from the Tories and hand Labour a decisive victory in what is being touted as a key battleground constituency.
The poll also reinforces the view that May’s election will be a two-horse race between Stroud’s incumbent MP, the Conservative Neil Carmichael, and the constituency’s former representative David Drew, who as Labour’s parliamentary candidate will be campaigning in his fifth successive general election.
While the Green Party and UKIP are both polling at 11 per cent, the survey predicts a dramatic collapse in the Liberal Democrat vote from 15 per cent in 2010 to 6 per cent in 2015.
A total of 1,000 Stroud residents were surveyed in the poll, with prospective voters asked who they would support when thinking specifically about their own constituency and the candidates standing.
On Tuesday, the two leading contenders, Neil Carmichael and David Drew, were both seeking to play down the significance of the poll, but the latter did concede the results looked ‘promising’ for Labour.
“You cannot pretend nine months before an election that you have won it,” Mr Drew said.
“It is promising but there is still a long way to go and we’re not taking anyone’s vote for granted. There is no room for complacency because a lot can happen between now and May.
“This is a very close-fought marginal seat. It will be either me or the current MP so it is up to me to prove to people who won’t necessarily see Labour as their first choice that there are things that I will do, which I tried to do when I was an MP, that are for the benefit of the Stroud constituency, and which aren’t about trying to impose the view of Westminster on everybody.”
However, Stroud MP Neil Carmichael, said: “Every time we have had votes cast by Stroud residents in Stroud since 2010, the Conservative Party has always been comfortably ahead.
“We beat the Labour Party in total votes cast in May’s local elections and in the EU elections as well so that is a firm foundation for any future general election.”
Mr Carmichael, who sought to brush off any concerns arising from the poll, predicted that disaffected voters would return to the Conservative Party once they saw the economy was beginning to recover and he also trumpeted his personal record over the last four years.
“I love campaigning and I am very proud of my record of delivering for Stroud. I have secured £45 million worth of investment for the redoubling of the railway line between Swindon and Kemble, £5 million for green energy in Berkeley, £9.6 million worth of extra funding for schools in Gloucestershire as well as investment in Stroud Hospital and the maternity unit.
“I also have plans for the future including pretty ambitious ideas about improving infrastructure.”
Green Party district councillor John Marjoram said: “It is very encouraging that we have got 11 per cent of the vote at the moment considering we haven’t actually announced who our new candidate will be for the general election.”
His party colleague Molly Scott Cato, who was recently elected as a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) added: “From my perspective this multi-party situation means we might end up with an MP that only a quarter of the people in Stroud voted for and we are likely to see something similar on a national basis, calling the first past the post (FPTP) election system into question.
“May's European Election was the first in which more than 50 per cent of voters chose neither Labour nor Conservative, and yet those parties will continue to share all the power between them if we are stuck with FPTP."
In a letter sent to The Times newspaper last week, UKIP's parliamentary candidate for Stroud, Caroline Stephens, said: "Stroud is a rural seat in the South of England, nestling in 'picture postcard' countryside on the edge of the Cotswolds.
"If the Tories are faring so badly in a constituency such as this, what hope is there for them in the North, the Midlands, Wales and Scotland, to say nothing of London and the great industrial cities?
"The only solution in the coming General Election for those in Stroud, and in countless other constituencies the length and breadth of the land who do not wish to see both the installation of Ed Miliband as Prime Minister, and the return of a Labour Government with all the worrying and disastrous consequences which will flow from such an eventuality, is to vote for UKIP as the only credible and viable alternative to Labour."