May Eyes Labour Votes as Poll Gives Party Biggest Lead Since '91

  • Conservatives to propose capping energy bills in manifesto
  • May’s Tories lead Labour by more than 20 points in some polls

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party looked to broaden its appeal to voters beyond its traditional base as most weekend polls showed it holding lead of at least 20 percentage points over the opposition Labour Party.

With pollster ComRes putting the Tories on 50 percent support for first time since 1991 ahead of the June 8 election, May is pitching Labour voters in swing districts with policies such as a cap on energy bills and maintaining the current level of foreign aid. Her refusal to rule out increasing taxes also suggested she feels confident in her position.

Less than a week since she made the surprise decision to call an election three years earlier than planned, May’s Conservatives are on course for a majority of more than 100 seats in the 650-member House of Commons. YouGov put the Conservatives ahead by 48 percent to Labour’s 25 percent. An Opinium survey showed a 19-point Tory lead, although a Survation poll put May’s party only 11 points ahead, 40 percent to 29 percent.

Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green on Sunday confirmed a plan to place a ceiling on household gas and electricity prices, appropriating a policy promoted by Labour in the 2015 election.

Manifesto Awaited

The Conservative manifesto to be released on May 8 will set out a policy of ordering energy regulator Ofgem to set a maximum price for the 70 percent of households that pay suppliers’ standard tariffs, according to the Sunday Times. That would cut about 100 pounds ($130) off the average family’s annual utility bill, the newspaper said.

“People feel that some of the big energy companies have taken advantage of them with the tariffs they’ve got,” Green said on ITV’s “Peston on Sunday.” The cap would be “more flexible” than one proposed by Labour, he said.

The government has been ratcheting up the pressure on Britain’s so-called Big Six utilities for months, trying to encourage them to take voluntary measures to rein in gas and power prices. Business Secretary Greg Clark warned in March that “time is up” for the utilities, while May said the energy market “is manifestly not working.”

Five of the six -- Electricite de France SA, SSE Plc, Innogy SE’s Npower unit, Iberdrola SA’s ScottishPower business, and E.ON SE -- have announced price increases since the start of the year, while only Centrica Plc has frozen prices. The U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority said in 2015 that Britons overpaid on their bills by 1.2 billion pounds ($1.5 billion) a year from 2009 to 2013 by not changing suppliers.

Prepping for Divorce

The Tories are also backing away from parts of their 2015 campaign platform, perhaps to give them more room for maneuver as they focus on delivering the divorce from the European Union. May and Chancellor Philip Hammond last week both signaled an intention to drop a pledge not to raise taxes.

On Friday, May said Britain’s commitment to spend 0.7 percent of gross domestic product on foreign aid “remains and will remain,” although she hinted that the definition of “aid” might be redefined.

Meanwhile, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, tried to offer voters the vision of “a very different country” if he were to become prime minister.

Commercial providers would be phased out of providing care within the state-owned National Health Service, Corbyn said on BBC Television’s “Andrew Marr Show.” He pledged to negotiate government contracts only with companies that agree to curb executive pay, and proposed four new public holidays across the U.K. to allow workers to spend more time with their families. The Bank of England concluded that such a move as would be “roughly neutral” for the economy, Corbyn said.

Nuclear Missiles

Asked whether the Labour manifesto would keep an existing commitment to renewing the Trident nuclear-weapons system, Corbyn, an opponent of nuclear weapons, would say only that the party’s platform is still being written. He also didn’t fully answer a question on whether there would be any circumstances under which he would order the firing of nuclear missiles.

Corbyn will on Monday tell a trades union conference in Scotland that he’ll “negotiate a
Brexit deal which protects the interests of working people,” and he said his economic plan’s promise of 10 pound per hour minimum wage will give 500,000 Scottish workers a pay raise.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will tell the same audience that only her Scottish National Party “has the strength to stand up to the Tories and make Scotland’s voice heard.”

Meanwhile, with a call for a second referendum on the terms of the Brexit deal, the pro-EU Liberal Democrats are targeting seats held by both main parties in districts that voted to stay in the bloc last year. Polls show the party with 11 to 12 percent support.

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron told ITV that there are “no circumstances whatsoever” under which his party would enter a coalition with the Conservatives or Labour, or prop up a minority Tory or Labour government. May and Corbyn “have basically joined hands together to push us over the cliff edge of a hard Brexit,” Farron said.

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