It's started

The Labour fightback begins

A week is a long time in polling coverage, especially at the Guardian/Observer.

First, the Guardian -- which, along with the Sun, has declared that Labour cannot win under Gordon Brown -- managed rather awkwardly to present a poll showing a two-point fall for the Tories and a two-point bounce for Labour as a triumph for David Cameron.

Then, only days later, a poll in the Observer (carried out at the same time as the Guardian poll and published yesterday) showed that Labour has closed the gap to only 6 points, with 31 per cent against the Tories' 37.

It is the poll Gordon Brown has been waiting for.

Suddenly, and belatedly as usual, it has become the conventional wisdom to talk of a hung parliament. Now, some of us have been arguing for months that this is likely. My colleague Mehdi Hasan and I went into it in some detail back in June, when Mehdi was, if anything, surer. (I thought then and -- shock horror -- still think now, that a small overall majority for Labour is the most likely outcome.)

Indeed, yesterday's poll and the apparent trend reminded me that, after I dared to suggest in my New Year predictions (some wrong, some right), that the two main parties' positions in the polls would switch by the end of this year, Iain Dale, the amiable and popular partisan Conservative blogger, reacted with "cackling laughter" and said: "In your dreams, sunshine."

In fact, private polling commissioned by No 10 is today showing just that.

UPDATE: The right-wing blogosphere, often loose with the facts, is once again misinterpreting what I said. I did not say there is polling showing that Labour is now "ahead". I said, and you can see it above, that private polling is showing a trend that will show a reversal of the parties' fortunes by the end of the year. OK? I hope this is clear to those who cannot see the difference between the journalistic view that Labour could still win -- a view apparently shared by David Cameron, incidentally -- and supposed Labour "spin".

 

Sign up to the New Statesman newsletter and receive weekly updates from the team

James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.
Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

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.

0800 7318496