Cameron hasn't "closed the deal"

Guardian front page ignores signs of Labour comeback

The latest ICM poll offers some good news for Labour. The party has cut the Conservatives' lead by 4 points, rising to its highest level in an ICM poll since April.

But you wouldn't know it looking at the Guardian's front page this morning. The paper proclaims, on the basis of a few non-voting character questions, that David Cameron is "closing the deal" and that voters now see him as "PM-in-waiting". It's not surprising that Cameron leads Brown on the question of who would be a "good prime minister", but we don't live in a presidential system, and so the election may not be won or lost on that basis.

Given that Labour is eating into the Tories' poll lead (and could deny Cameron a working majority even though 10 points behind), it's rather premature to declare that the Tory leader is "closing the deal".

Over at PoliticalBetting, Mike Smithson suggests that the paper's deferential coverage could be a reward for Cameron's decision to abandon a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

This seems unlikely. Europe is one of the few policy areas on which the Guardian has genuinely attempted to hold the Tory leader to account. The day after his U-turn on Lisbon, the paper led with the French Europe minister's outburst against the "autistic" Tories.

The Guardian's distorted coverage instead reflects the reality that, in the current climate, "Cameron is closing the deal" is a sexier headline than "Labour comeback begins". All papers like to appear on the side of the future. That's the reason several right-wing titles (including, remarkably, the Daily Express) endorsed New Labour. The Guardian, in its own way, is no exception to this rule.


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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Why relations between Theresa May and Philip Hammond became tense so quickly

The political imperative of controlling immigration is clashing with the economic imperative of maintaining growth. 

There is no relationship in government more important than that between the prime minister and the chancellor. When Theresa May entered No.10, she chose Philip Hammond, a dependable technocrat and long-standing ally who she had known since Oxford University. 

But relations between the pair have proved far tenser than anticipated. On Wednesday, Hammond suggested that students could be excluded from the net migration target. "We are having conversations within government about the most appropriate way to record and address net migration," he told the Treasury select committee. The Chancellor, in common with many others, has long regarded the inclusion of students as an obstacle to growth. 

The following day Hammond was publicly rebuked by No.10. "Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed, and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included," a spokesman said (as I reported in advance, May believes that the public would see this move as "a fix"). 

This is not the only clash in May's first 100 days. Hammond was aggrieved by the Prime Minister's criticisms of loose monetary policy (which forced No.10 to state that it "respects the independence of the Bank of England") and is resisting tougher controls on foreign takeovers. The Chancellor has also struck a more sceptical tone on the UK's economic prospects. "It is clear to me that the British people did not vote on June 23 to become poorer," he declared in his conference speech, a signal that national prosperity must come before control of immigration. 

May and Hammond's relationship was never going to match the remarkable bond between David Cameron and George Osborne. But should relations worsen it risks becoming closer to that beween Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. Like Hammond, Darling entered the Treasury as a calm technocrat and an ally of the PM. But the extraordinary circumstances of the financial crisis transformed him into a far more assertive figure.

In times of turmoil, there is an inevitable clash between political and economic priorities. As prime minister, Brown resisted talk of cuts for fear of the electoral consequences. But as chancellor, Darling was more concerned with the bottom line (backing a rise in VAT). By analogy, May is focused on the political imperative of controlling immigration, while Hammond is focused on the economic imperative of maintaining growth. If their relationship is to endure far tougher times they will soon need to find a middle way. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.