Stockton South is seventh on Labour’s target seat list in terms of the swing needed to win yet a Survation poll in the constituency has put the current Tory MP James Wharton on track to hold it. When don't-knows are stripped out, poll (tables here) puts Wharton two points ahead of Labour’s candidate Louise Baldock on 39 per cent to 37 per cent. The Lib Dems are on 3 per cent, Ukip on 18 per cent, with others polling 3 per cent.
This is interesting enough given Labour should expect to win its seventh target seat easily. This is a northern seat which Wharton currently holds with a 332 vote majority. It is the sort of constituency where Labour’s cost-of-living crisis message should hit home. Labour might argue that given the poll named each candidate, Wharton has an advantage as the sitting MP and that the Tory lead is within the margin of error. But Wharton might argue that Labour should be giving him the heebie-jeebies right now, not the other way round.
But what’s as interesting is that this poll was commissioned by Unite, who have been running a constituency campaign against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership including the NHS. The poll was about what those constituents thought of the trade agreement, and included this statement before questions concerning it:
‘Representatives from the European Union and the US government are presently negotiating a new trade agreement called TTIP aimed at making it easier to trade between Europe and the USA, which they estimate could bring an extra £4 billion a year to the UK economy.
‘As it currently stands this new agreement covers the NHS and health sector in the UK. The UK government recently confirmed that health is in the scope of the agreement. If the NHS is included as part of this trade agreement, TTIP would provide a mechanism to allow American multinationals, or any firm with American investors, new powers to sue the government if it ever attempted to take privatised health services back into public ownership.’
After being told this, 62.5 per cent said they would oppose the inclusion of the NHS in the trade agreement, against 19.6 per cent don’t knows and 17.9 per cent who would support it. A majority of voters also thought David Cameron should seek to exclude the NHS from the agreement and veto the whole agreement if he cannot secure this opt-out.
So Unite might feel that it is worth continuing to campaign in the constituency by putting up ‘NHS for sale’ boards that look like estate agents’ signs in people’s front gardens and campaigning outside Wharton’s constituency surgery. But the union has also just published a poll that says the party it is affiliated to will fail to beat Wharton next year. It could have kept it private. That’s either clumsy work from Unite - or a very clever way of trying to spook the Labour party.