Poll shows why Labour must get after Cameron

Brown should expose the popular Tory leader in debate

From the Conservative conference

Today's Times poll showing that David Cameron remains far more popular than his party has some important implications for Labour strategy. The Populus poll found that 68 per cent of voters view the party as unchanged under Cameron's leadership.

But the Conservatives have changed since Cameron became leader. They have become even more Eurosceptic. They have committed themselves to even more regressive tax cuts. It's up to Labour to ensure Cameron does not remain untainted by these developments.

While Labour is seen as more likely than the Conservatives (by 46 to 36 per cent) to protect front-line public services, this advantage is reversed when voters are asked to compare Gordon Brown with Cameron (42 to 45 per cent). Clearly Cameron's pledge to ring-fence NHS spending has had some impact. The Tory leader is even seen as more likely than Brown to spread "the burden of cuts fairly". Brown's disastrous decision to abolish the 10p tax rate did much to destroy his reputation for fairness.

Cameron is more popular than his party, and that is one of the main reasons why the Tories are so keen on the proposed television debates between party leaders. The more they can make the election seem like a presidential contest between Cameron and Brown, the more likely they are to win a large majority. But the debates would also provide Brown with a clear opportunity to expose Cameron as the reactionary he is, and it's one he'd be right to take.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.