Why are the Tories losing support?

The Sun, Ukip and rising economic confidence damage the party

The new ComRes poll showing support for the Conservatives falling again is likely to have led to some anxiety at CCHQ this morning. Seven out of the last ten polls have put the Tories below the psychologically crucial figure of 40 per cent. Today's poll is the third in just over a week to show figures that, if repeated at the election, would produce a hung parliament.

The Tories will comfort themselves with the weekend YouGov poll that gave them a 6 point lead over Labour in 32 key northern marginals. The fear remains that the millions Lord Ashcroft has pumped into marginal seats will ensure that in practice David Cameron wins a working majority.

Despite this, the decline in Tory support is still explicit enough to encourage those who have long argued that Cameron should adopt a more populist, right-wing agenda. Over at PoliticalBetting, Mike Smithson notes that the Tories have started to lose support to Ukip in the wake of Cameron's decision to abandon a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

ConservativeHome's Tim Montgomerie suggests that the fall in support has less to do with the party's new position on Europe and more to do with the breach of trust that Cameron's decision to abandon his "cast-iron guarantee" of a referendum represents.

I'd add that the Sun's vulgar campaign against Gordon Brown damaged the Tories by association and that rising confidence means the economy isn't quite the political headache it was for Labour.

The biggest danger for the Tory leadership is that the party's persistent decline in support will undermine its policy agenda. George Osborne's "age of austerity" was predicated on the assumption that the Tories would win a large majority at the next election, providing them with the parliamentary support necessary to push through unpopular spending cuts and tax rises.

This is a major test of Cameron and Osborne's resilience.

 

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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What Jeremy Corbyn gets right about the single market

Technically, you can be outside the EU but inside the single market. Philosophically, you're still in the EU. 

I’ve been trying to work out what bothers me about the response to Jeremy Corbyn’s interview on the Andrew Marr programme.

What bothers me about Corbyn’s interview is obvious: the use of the phrase “wholesale importation” to describe people coming from Eastern Europe to the United Kingdom makes them sound like boxes of sugar rather than people. Adding to that, by suggesting that this “importation” had “destroy[ed] conditions”, rather than laying the blame on Britain’s under-enforced and under-regulated labour market, his words were more appropriate to a politician who believes that immigrants are objects to be scapegoated, not people to be served. (Though perhaps that is appropriate for the leader of the Labour Party if recent history is any guide.)

But I’m bothered, too, by the reaction to another part of his interview, in which the Labour leader said that Britain must leave the single market as it leaves the European Union. The response to this, which is technically correct, has been to attack Corbyn as Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland are members of the single market but not the European Union.

In my view, leaving the single market will make Britain poorer in the short and long term, will immediately render much of Labour’s 2017 manifesto moot and will, in the long run, be a far bigger victory for right-wing politics than any mere election. Corbyn’s view, that the benefits of freeing a British government from the rules of the single market will outweigh the costs, doesn’t seem very likely to me. So why do I feel so uneasy about the claim that you can be a member of the single market and not the European Union?

I think it’s because the difficult truth is that these countries are, de facto, in the European Union in any meaningful sense. By any estimation, the three pillars of Britain’s “Out” vote were, firstly, control over Britain’s borders, aka the end of the free movement of people, secondly, more money for the public realm aka £350m a week for the NHS, and thirdly control over Britain’s own laws. It’s hard to see how, if the United Kingdom continues to be subject to the free movement of people, continues to pay large sums towards the European Union, and continues to have its laws set elsewhere, we have “honoured the referendum result”.

None of which changes my view that leaving the single market would be a catastrophe for the United Kingdom. But retaining Britain’s single market membership starts with making the argument for single market membership, not hiding behind rhetorical tricks about whether or not single market membership was on the ballot last June, when it quite clearly was. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.