How would the Lib Dems perform with Cable as leader?

Support for the party would rise from 14% to 18% with Cable as leader.

Vince Cable has made it clear that he's available should a vacancy arise for the leadership of the Liberal Democrats, but what difference would he make to his party's election prospects? The latest Independent/ComRes survey asked voters this question and identified a significant Cable bounce.

With the Business Secretary as leader, support for the Lib Dems would rise to 18%, compared to 14% under Nick Clegg. On a uniform swing, that would leave the party with 39 of their 57 seats, compared with 23 under Clegg.

One should always be wary of polls showing that a political party would perform better under an alternative leader. Voters have a habit of favouring would-be leaders until the moment they're actually in charge. But with little evidence that Clegg can revive the Lib Dems' fortunes, the ComRes findings will concentrate the minds of his MPs. If the choice is between keeping their seats under Cable and losing them under Clegg, it would be surprising if they didn't rediscover their taste for regicide before the election.

He's behind you, Nick. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

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.

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