The Tories win a conference poll bounce

Labour lead reduced from 12 points to seven following Cameron's speech.

As I've noted before, the party conferences are among the few political events that can have a visible effect on the polls (the Budget, which led to a sustained fall in support for the Tories, is another). Labour won a bounce from Ed Miliband's bravura speech and it looks as if the Tories have won one from David Cameron's.

Two successive YouGov polls have put the party seven points behind Labour, compared to 10-14 points before the conference, while Cameron's lead as "the best prime minister" has risen from four points to 14. It remains to be seen, of course, whether this is a temporary or a permanent shift (one suspects the former).

The latest figures (Labour 42%, Conservatives 35%, Lib Dems 8%) would still see Miliband enter Downing Street with a majority of 90 seats, but the Tories are comforted by the fact that the party has overturned much larger Labour leads in the past. In addition, they note that support for governing parties tends to increase in the run-up to an election (as it did for Labour and Gordon Brown).

However, as things stand, it's hard to see the Conservatives remaining the single largest party, let alone winning a majority. It cannot be emphasised too strongly how difficult the loss of the boundary changes has made it for Cameron's party to win. Based on a Labour vote of 35%, the Tories would need a lead of around seven points to win a majority. In the absence of a Falklands-style bounce, it's hard to see Cameron succeeding against Miliband where he failed against Brown. After all, no sitting prime minister has increased their party's share of the vote since 1974.

David Cameron address a gathering at the Imperial War Museum in London. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Jeremy Corbyn's Labour conference speech shows how he's grown

The leader's confident address will have impressed even his fiercest foes. 

It is not just Jeremy Corbyn’s mandate that has been improved by his re-election. The Labour leader’s conference speech was, by some distance, the best he has delivered. He spoke with far greater confidence, clarity and energy than previously. From its self-deprecating opening onwards ("Virgin Trains assure me there are 800 empty seats") we saw a leader improved in almost every respect. 

Even Corbyn’s firecest foes will have found less to take issue with than they may have anticipated. He avoided picking a fight on Trident (unlike last year), delivered his most forceful condemnation of anti-Semitism (“an evil”) and, with the exception of the Iraq war, avoided attacks on New Labour’s record. The video which preceded his arrival, and highlighted achievements from the Blair-Brown years, was another olive branch. But deselection, which Corbyn again refused to denounce, will remain a running sore (MPs alleged that Hillsborough campaigner Sheila Coleman, who introduced Corbyn, is seeking to deselect Louise Ellman and backed the rival TUSC last May).

Corbyn is frequently charged with lacking policies. But his lengthy address contained several new ones: the removal of the cap on council borrowing (allowing an extra 60,000 houses to be built), a ban on arms sales to abusive regimes and an arts pupil premium in every primary school.

On policy, Corbyn frequently resembles Ed Miliband in his more radical moments, unrestrained by Ed Balls and other shadow cabinet members. He promised £500bn of infrastructure investment (spread over a decade with £150bn from the private sector), “a real living wage”, the renationalisation of the railways, rent controls and a ban on zero-hours contracts.

Labour’s greatest divisions are not over policy but rules, strategy and culture. Corbyn’s opponents will charge him with doing far too little to appeal to the unconverted - Conservative voters most of all. But he spoke with greater conviction than before of preparing for a general election (acknowledging that Labour faced an arithmetical “mountain”) and successfully delivered the attack lines he has often shunned.

“Even Theresa May gets it, that people want change,” he said. “That’s why she stood on the steps of Downing Street and talked about the inequalities and burning injustices in today’s Britain. She promised a country: ‘that works not for a privileged few but for every one of us’. But even if she manages to talk the talk, she can’t walk the walk. This isn’t a new government, it’s David Cameron’s government repackaged with progressive slogans but with a new harsh right-wing edge, taking the country backwards and dithering before the historic challenges of Brexit.”

After a second landslide victory, Corbyn is, for now, unassailable. Many MPs, having voted no confidence in him, will never serve on the frontbench. But an increasing number, recognising Corbyn’s immovability, speak once again of seeking to “make it work”. For all the ructions of this summer, Corbyn’s speech will have helped to persuade them that they can.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.