Back in February, a New Statesman cover story asked: how long can David Cameron keep getting away with it?My colleague Rafael Behr discussed how the Prime Minister is “uncannily immune from blame”, saying:
To Labour's frustration, on most issues Cameron's ear tends to be pretty well tuned. He performs the role of Prime Minister with a breezy aplomb that looks enough like competence for voters to give him the benefit of the doubt. That leeway is something Labour knows will shrink over time, just as the party awaits the moment when Cameron and Osborne will start getting the blame for economic malaise. As one shadow cabinet minister puts it: "People haven't yet realised that the government is failing.
Has the time now come when voters have stopped giving Cameron the benefit of the doubt? It looks like it, if today’s Evening Standard/Ipsos Mori poll is to be believed.
The number of people dissatisfied with Cameron’s performance has risen to 60 per cent, the highest since he became Conservative leader in 2005.
It appears that this is linked to a loss of confidence in the coalition’s handling of the economy, as our cover story suggested. Despite mounting evidence against the Conservative austerity package, this is an area in which Labour has consistently failed to gain ground. As Behr’s article argued:
He and Osborne have controlled the terms of debate so that the dominant question in people's minds is who should be permitted to clean up Labour's mess, which naturally invites the answer "not Labour".
The UK’s dip back into recession and the broadly negative response to George Osborne’s latest Budget perhaps made it inevitable that the tide would turn (indeed, it may be more surprising that it took so long). In the Ipsos poll, 31 per cent of voters said that they thought the Tories had the best policies on the economy – but Labour nearly matched this with 30 per cent. This is notable, given that this is the one area where the Conservatives have consistently outstripped the opposition. Just a month ago, they had a clear 10 point lead.
Confidence also fell, with 44 per cent believing that the economy will get worse over the next year, compared with 21 per cent who think it will improve. This gives on overall “optimism” score of minus 23, five points worse than last month.
Nor is this poll the only sign that the tide may be turning against Cameron and his government’s austerity package. As my colleague Jon Bernstein noted over the weekend, a Sunday Times/YouGov poll showed a personal ratings swing towards the Labour leader Ed Miliband and away from Cameron. The scores were hardly cause for celebration for either leader – Miliband was on minus 23 while Cameron was on minus 29 – but it is a significant that the Prime Minister’s personal ratings are falling, given that he has always out-polled his party. It looks like Lucky Dave’s luck is running out.