Cameron's approval rating plummets

Further evidence that the Tory leader has not "sealed the deal"

In the wake of recent polls showing that the next election is now likely to produce a hung parliament, the Conservatives have been comforted by David Cameron's personal ratings, which have remained robust. British politics are becoming increasingly presidential, making the Tories confident they will win out.

But now a new PoliticsHome poll has shown a significant fall in Cameron's approval rating in the past two months. On 18 September, his leadership approval score stood at +36, but by 27 November it had fallen to +21. The Tory leader's 17-point lead over Nick Clegg has been reduced to 7 points.

Significantly, the fall in support for Cameron is not tied to a general shift against the party leaders. Over the same period, Gordon Brown's approval rating has risen from -55 to (a still dismal) -46.

Perhaps the Tories need not worrry: Cameron retains a convincing lead over the PM. But the poll reinforces the sense that suddenly, for a number of reasons, the public is re-examining its views on both Cameron and his party. Those who complacently suggested only a fortnight ago that Cameron was "closing the deal" will have to re-examine their assumptions, too.

 

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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It's not WhatsApp that was at fault in the Westminster attacks. It's our prisons

Britain's criminal justice system neither deterred nor rehabilitated Khalid Masood, and may even have facilitated his radicalisation. 

The dust has settled, the evidence has been collected and the government has decided who is to blame for the attack on Westminster. That’s right, its WhatsApp and their end-to-end encryption of messages. Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, wants tech companies to install a backdoor into messages like these that the government can then access.

There are a couple of problems here, not least that Adrian Russell aka Khalid Masood was known to the security services but considered to be low-risk. Even if the government had had the ability to gain entry to his WhatsApp, they wouldn’t have used it. Then there’s the fact that end-to-end encryption doesn’t just protect criminals and terrorists – it protects users from criminals and terrorists. Any backdoor will be vulnerable to attack, not only from our own government and foreign powers, but by non-state actors including fraudsters, and other terrorists.

(I’m parking, also, the question of whether these are powers that should be handed to any government in perpetuity, particularly one in a country like Britain’s, where near-unchecked power is handed to the executive as long as it has a parliamentary majority.)

But the biggest problem is that there is an obvious area where government policy failed in the case of Masood: Britain’s prisons system.

Masood acted alone though it’s not yet clear if he was merely inspired by international jihadism – that is, he read news reports, watched their videos on social media and came up with the plan himself – or he was “enabled” – that is, he sought out and received help on how to plan his attack from the self-styled Islamic State.

But what we know for certain is that he was, as is a recurring feature of the “radicalisation journey”, in possession of a string of minor convictions from 1982 to 2002 and that he served jail time. As the point of having prisons is surely to deter both would-be offenders and rehabilitate its current occupants so they don’t offend again, Masood’s act of terror is an open-and-shut case of failure in the prison system. Not only he did prison fail to prevent him committing further crimes, he went on to commit one very major crime.  That he appears to have been radicalised in prison only compounds the failure.

The sad thing is that not so very long ago a Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice was thinking seriously about prison and re-offending. While there was room to critique some of Michael Gove’s solutions to that problem, they were all a hell of a lot better than “let’s ban WhatsApp”. 

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