Is Labour's post-conference bounce over?

Latest MORI poll gives the Tories a 17-point lead

A new Ipsos/MORI poll has just been released that shows the Tories rising 7 points to 43 per cent, Labour up 2 points to 26 per cent and the Lib Dems down 6 points to 19 per cent. Does this mark the end of Labour's post-conference bounce? It's too early to say; the polls are still in flux after the conference season, with the Tory lead ranging between 19 and 10 points in the past ten days.

Nevertheless, the poll will reassure CCHQ that fears of a Labour recovery are premature. If repeated at a general election, the figures would give the Tories a Commons majority of 126. The poll may trouble Labour cabinet ministers who, if we believe Rachel Sylvester's column, are considering calling on Brown to resign. She writes:

Even those most supportive of Mr Brown in public -- Harriet Harman, Lord Mandelson, Alistair Darling, Douglas Alexander -- are privately dismayed by his performance. Cabinet ministers are once again considering telling the PM he must go. "The most credible scenario would be for Gordon to step down around Christmas," says a senior figure. "He's done his best, but people who matter are saying that it can't go on. Any chance of mounting a respectable election campaign will necessitate a different leader."

I can't see a leadership challenge taking place, for several reasons. First, there remains no outstanding candidate to replace Brown. Harman has let it be known that she won't stand, Alan Johnson has failed to impress and the Miliband brothers are wisely keeping their powder dry. Why would any potential leader want to inherit a party on the brink of an all-out electoral defeat?

Second, by past standards Brown has had a good few weeks. At present there is no single issue, equivalent to the abolition of the 10p tax, the Gurkhas, or the McBride affair, for instance, to galvanise opposition to him. Brown will lead Labour into the election and it's a distraction to suggest otherwise.

UPDATE: A new Guardian/ICM poll also gives the Conservatives a 17-point lead.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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With the BBC Food’s collection under threat, here's how to make the most of online recipes

Do a bit of digging, trust your instincts – and always read the comments.

I don’t think John Humphrys is much of a chef. Recently, as his Today co-presenter Mishal Husain was discussing the implications of the BBC’s decision to axe its Food website (since commuted to transportation to the Good Food platform, run by its commercial arm), sharp-eared listeners heard the Humph claim that fewer recipes on the web could only be a good thing. “It would make it easier!” he bellowed in the background. “We wouldn’t have to choose between so many!”

Husain also seemed puzzled as to why anyone would need more than one recipe for spaghetti bolognese – but, as any keen cook knows, you can never have too many different takes on a dish. Just as you wouldn’t want to get all your news from a single source, it would be a sad thing to eat the same bolognese for the rest of your life. Sometimes only a molto autentico version, as laid down by a fierce Italian donna, rich with tradition and chopped liver, will do – and sometimes, though you would never admit it in a national magazine, you crave the comfort of your mum’s spag bol with grated cheddar.

The world wouldn’t starve without BBC Food’s collection but, given that an online search for “spaghetti bolognese recipe” turns up about a million results, it would have been sad to have lost one of the internet’s more trustworthy sources of information. As someone who spends a large part of each week researching and testing recipes, I can assure you that genuinely reliable ones are rarer than decent chips after closing time. But although it is certainly the only place you’ll find the Most Haunted host Yvette Fielding’s kedgeree alongside Heston Blumenthal’s snail porridge, the BBC website is not the only one that is worth your time.

The good thing about newspaper, magazine and other commercial platforms is that most still have just enough budget to ensure that their recipes will have been made at least twice – once by the writer and once for the accompanying photographs – though sadly the days when everyone employed an independent recipe tester are long gone. Such sites also often have sufficient traffic to generate a useful volume of comments. I never make a recipe without scrolling down to see what other people have said about it. Get past the “Can’t wait to make this!” brigade; ignore the annoying people who swap baked beans for lentils and then complain, “This is nothing like dhal”; and there’s usually some sensible advice in there, too.

But what about when you leave the safety of the big boys and venture into the no man’s land of the personal blog? How do you separate the wheat from the chaff and find a recipe that actually works? You can often tell how much work a writer has put in by the level of detail they go into: if they have indicated how many people it serves, or where to find unusual ingredients, suggested possible tweaks and credited their original sources, they have probably made the dish more than once. The photography is another handy clue. You don’t have to be Annie Leibovitz to provide a good idea of what the finished dish ought to look like.

Do a bit of digging as part of your prep. If you like the look of the rest of the site, the author’s tastes will probably chime with your own. And always, always, wherever the recipe is from, read it all the way through, even before you order the shopping. There is nothing more annoying than getting halfway through and then realising that you need a hand blender to finish the dish, just as the first guest arrives.

Above all, trust your instincts. If the cooking time seems far too short, or the salt content ridiculously high, it probably is, so keep an eye on that oven, check that casserole, keep tasting that sauce. As someone who once published a magic mince pie recipe without any sugar, I’m living proof that, occasionally, even the very best of us make mistakes. 

Felicity Cloake is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad