Setback: Lord Ashcroft's spending spree on marginal seats for the Tories may not bring the hoped-for results

Setback: Lord Ashcroft's spending spree on marginal seats for the Tories may not bring the hoped-for results

The £2million spent by Tory tycoon Michael Ashcroft on David Cameron’s Election campaign may win the party as few as 13 extra seats, according to a new poll.

It means each seat will have cost the peer more than £150,000 – and on present trends it is unlikely to be enough to oust Gordon Brown from No.10.

A BPIX poll for The Mail on Sunday shows Lord Ashcroft’s spending spree on marginal seats has had an effect. Compared to the Tories’ two per cent lead nationally, they are seven points ahead in the 92 marginal constituencies targeted by him.

But BPIX pollster Professor Paul Whiteley estimates it will give the Conservatives only 13 more seats than they would have won based on the national figures.

And the lack of enthusiasm for the Tories is noticeable when the number of marginals is increased to 138 seats – the second band of target seats currently held by Labour or the Liberal Democrats needed to win a Tory majority. Then the ‘Ashcroft Effect’ vanishes.

Unlike previous marginal polls, the BPIX survey compares the difference between the parties’ national ratings with those in marginal seats. A total of 5,655 people took part – five times the normal sample.

The national figures show the Tories on 36 points, Labour 34 and the Liberal Democrats on 18. If repeated in a General Election it would give Labour 314 seats (32 down on their present total), Conservatives 259 (up 66) and Lib Dems 45 (down 18), resulting in a hung parliament.

Lord Ashcroft, who is under fire from Labour after admitting last week that he is non domiciled and does not pay tax on his foreign earnings, has given £5million to the Tories in ten years.

However, when BPIX tested the ‘Ashcroft Effect’ in marginals the results were mixed for his party.

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In 75 Labour-held seats where the Tories are in second place and up to ten per cent behind, David Cameron’s national lead over Gordon Brown leaps from two points to seven.

But Professor Whiteley says that this gains the Tories only an extra nine seats. When the number of Labour-held seats is extended to 110 constituencies where they are up to 15 per cent ahead, the Tory lead falls to just one per cent. Here, the ‘Ashcroft Effect’ is worth just one additional seat.

The same trend occurs in 28 seats where the Tories are out to topple the Lib Dems.

The ‘Ashcroft Effect’ results in a net benefit of three more seats where the Lib Dems are up to 15 points ahead of the Conservatives.

If the survey is correct, it brings the total number of Tory gains from his £2million campaign to 13.

Professor Whiteley of Essex University said: ‘The figures suggest the Ashcroft Effect is more modest than the Tories might hope.’

•    BPIX interviewed 5,655 people on Thursday and Friday.

Daily Mail