Who is winning the economic argument?

Two polls today present a mixed picture.

As crisis engulfs the eurozone, people across Europe are beginning to question whether austerity is, indeed, the only route out to recovery. But what impact is that having on the economic argument in the UK, and what does it mean for the political parties? Two polls out this morning present a rather mixed picture.

A Times/Populus poll (£) shows a thoroughly divided public. A small majority of 51 per cent believe that the government should slow the pace of spending cuts rather than trying to eliminate the structural deficit by 2017. Conversely, 49 per cent of voters back the coalition’s “Plan A”, and want the government to prioritise deficit elimination by 2017, even if that means more cuts. This result has been broadly consistent for 18 months, suggesting that the eurozone crisis and the implementation of cuts have not had much of an effect.

Elsewhere, a Guardian/ICM poll suggests that the eurozone crisis might actually be helping the government, as the public increasingly blames problems in Europe for the new recession in Britain. Asked about four possible culprits, 29 per cent continued to blame debts amassed by Labour, 24 per cent blamed the eurozone, 21 per cent the banks’ reluctance to lend, and just 17 per cent chose the coalition’s cuts. This shows a slight shift away from cuts and towards Europe since the same question was asked last autumn.

Two years into the new government, it is not good for Labour that the public continue to hold them responsible for the country’s economic woes. Both polls show very similar overall ratings, placing Labour on 41 points. Populus has the Tories seven points behind at 33, while ICM places them at 36.

There are several interesting things going on here. The first is that David Cameron’s personal ratings - consistenly higher than his party's - are falling. Last week, I asked whether “Lucky Dave’s” luck was running out, and that image is compounded. ICM gives the Prime Minister a net negative rating of -11, a significant fall since December (when he ranked at +5) and placing him neck and neck with the Labour leader Ed Miliband at -12.

The second area where the coalition has consistently outpolled Labour is on the economy. Although recent polls have suggested that Miliband’s team is closing the gap, today’s results suggest there is still a distance to go. Populus found that 40 per cent of the public backed Cameron, George Osborne and Nick Clegg on the economy, compared with 33 per cent for Miliband and Ed Balls.

ICM’s results mirrored this, finding that when people were asked to put their overall political preferences aside, 44 per cent preferred Osborne and Cameron on the economy, while 35 per cent trusted Miliband and Balls. While this is a substantial lead for the Tories, it’s worth noting that it has been diminishing steadily, from a 21 point gap in December to just nine now.

These polls show a public beginning to fall out of love with the coalition, but not yet confident of the alternative. Eurozone or no eurozone, there is a long way to go yet for Labour to win the economic argument.
 

George Osborne outside 11 Downing Street before presenting his Budget, March 2012. Photograph: Getty Images

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Leader: Trump and an age of disorder

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions.

The US presidency has not always been held by men of distinction and honour, but Donald Trump is by some distance its least qualified occupant. The leader of the world’s sole superpower has no record of political or military service and is ignorant of foreign affairs. Throughout his campaign, he repeatedly showed himself to be a racist, a misogynist, a braggart and a narcissist.

The naive hope that Mr Trump’s victory would herald a great moderation was dispelled by his conduct during the transition. He compared his country’s intelligence services to those of Nazi Germany and repeatedly denied Russian interference in the election. He derided Nato as “obsolete” and predicted the demise of the European Union. He reaffirmed his commitment to dismantling Obamacare and to overturning Roe v Wade. He doled out jobs to white nationalists, protectionists and family members. He denounced US citizens for demonstrating against him. Asked whether he regretted any part of his vulgar campaign, he replied: “No, I won.”

Of all his predilections, Mr Trump’s affection for Vladimir Putin is perhaps the most troubling. When the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, warned that Russia was the “number one geopolitical foe” of the US, he was mocked by Barack Obama. Yet his remark proved prescient. Rather than regarding Mr Putin as a foe, however, Mr Trump fetes him as a friend. The Russian president aims to use the US president’s goodwill to secure the removal of American sanctions, recognition of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and respect for the murderous reign of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. He has a worryingly high chance of success.

Whether or not Mr Trump has personal motives for his fealty (as a lurid security dossier alleges), he and Mr Putin share a political outlook. Both men desire a world in which “strongmen” are free to abuse their citizens’ human rights without fear of external rebuke. Mr Trump’s refusal to commit to Nato’s principle of collective defence provides Mr Putin with every incentive to pursue his expansionist desires. The historic achievement of peace and stability in eastern Europe is in danger.

As he seeks reconciliation with Russia, Mr Trump is simultaneously pursuing conflict with China. He broke with precedent by speaking on the telephone with the Taiwanese president, Tsai Ing-wen, and used Twitter to berate the Chinese government. Rex Tillerson, Mr Trump’s secretary of state nominee, has threatened an American blockade of the South China Sea islands.

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions. The US constitution, with its separation of powers, was designed to restrain autocrats such as the new president. Yet, in addition to the White House, the Republicans also control Congress and two-thirds of governorships and state houses. Mr Trump’s first Supreme Court appointment will ensure a conservative judicial majority. The decline of established print titles and the growth of “fake news” weaken another source of accountability.

In these circumstances, there is a heightened responsibility on the US’s allies to challenge, rather than to indulge, Mr Trump. Angela Merkel’s warning that co-operation was conditional on his respect for liberal and democratic values was a model of the former. Michael Gove’s obsequious interview with Mr Trump was a dismal example of the latter.

Theresa May has rightly rebuked the president for his treatment of women and has toughened Britain’s stance against Russian revanchism. Yet, although the UK must maintain working relations with the US, she should not allow the prospect of a future trade deal to skew her attitude towards Mr Trump. Any agreement is years away and the president’s protectionist proclivities could yet thwart British hopes of a beneficial outcome.

The diplomatic and political conventions embodied by the “special relationship” have endured for more than seven decades. However, Mr Trump’s election may necessitate their demise. It was the belief that the UK must stand “shoulder to shoulder” with the US that led Tony Blair into the ruinous Iraq War. In this new age of disorder, Western leaders must avoid being willing accomplices to Mr Trump’s agenda. Intense scepticism, rather than sycophancy, should define their response.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era