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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The Home Office made Theresa May. But it could still destroy her

Even politicians who leave the Home Office a success may find themselves dogged by it. 

Good morning. When Theresa May left the Home Office for the last time, she told civil servants that there would always be a little bit of the Home Office inside her.

She meant in terms of its enduring effect on her, but today is a reminder of its enduring ability to do damage on her reputation in the present day.

The case of Jamal al-Harith, released from Guantanamo Bay under David Blunkett but handed a £1m compensation payout under Theresa May, who last week died in a suicide bomb attack on Iraqi forces in Mosul, where he was fighting on behalf of Isis. 

For all Blunkett left in the wake of a scandal, his handling of the department was seen to be effective and his reputation was enhanced, rather than diminished, by his tenure. May's reputation as a "safe pair of hands" in the country, as "one of us" on immigration as far as the Conservative right is concerned and her credibility as not just another headbanger on stop and search all come from her long tenure at the Home Office. 

The event was the cue for the Mail to engage in its preferred sport of Blair-bashing. It’s all his fault for the payout – which in addition to buying al-Harith a house may also have fattened the pockets of IS – and the release. Not so fast, replied Blair in a punchy statement: didn’t you campaign for him to be released, and wasn’t the payout approved by your old pal Theresa May? (I paraphrase slightly.)

That resulted in a difficult Q&A for Downing Street’s spokesman yesterday, which HuffPo’s Paul Waugh has posted in full here. As it was May’s old department which has the job of keeping tabs on domestic terror threats the row rebounds onto her. 

Blair is right to say that every government has to “balance proper concern for civil liberties with desire to protect our security”. And it would be an act of spectacular revisionism to declare that Blair’s government was overly concerned with civil liberty rather than internal security.

Whether al-Harith should never have been freed or, as his family believe, was picked up by mistake before being radicalised in prison is an open question. Certainly the journey from wrongly-incarcerated fellow traveller to hardened terrorist is one that we’ve seen before in Northern Ireland and may have occurred here.

Regardless, the presumption of innocence is an important one but it means that occasionally, that means that someone goes on to commit crimes again. (The case of Ian Stewart, convicted of murdering the author Helen Bailey yesterday, and who may have murdered his first wife Diane Stewart as well, is another example of this.)

Nonetheless, May won’t have got that right every time. Her tenure at the Home Office, so crucial to her reputation as a “safe pair of hands”, may yet be weaponised by a clever rival, whether from inside or outside the Conservative Party. 

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