Support for Labour surges after Miliband's speech

The party's lead over the Tories rises from nine points to 14 in the first poll since the Labour leader's speech.

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) and Labour has duly won a bounce from Ed Miliband's well-received speech. The latest YouGov poll gives the party a 14-point lead over the Conservatives, up from nine points before the speech and the joint-largest lead it has enjoyed since the general election. Labour's share of the vote has increased by three points to 45%, while the Tories' has fallen by three to 31%. If repeated at an election on a uniform swing, these figures would see Miliband enter Downing Street with a majority of 130 seats.

The Tories will derive some consolation from the fact that Cameron continues to lead Miliband as the "best Prime Minister", but his advantage has shrunk to four points (31-27), the lowest since Miliband became leader.

Further evidence that Miliband's speech has improved his standing is supplied by a Survation poll for the Daily Mirror. The number of people who view him as "statesmanlike" has risen from 18% to 34%, whilst his net approval rating has improved from -46 to -15. In addition, 30% said they were more likely to vote for Labour following his speech (a figure that is more impressive than it appears. Some Labour voters will have needed no further persuasion.)

It remains to be seen whether this is a temporary or a permanent shift, but the Tories can no longer dismiss Miliband as unelectable (if they ever could). Nick Clegg's veto of the boundary changes means that Labour needs a lead of just one point on a uniform swing to win a majority. Based on the Tories' current performance, it's increasingly hard to see how they could prevent such a result.

Thirty per cent of people said they were more likely to vote Labour following Ed Miliband's speech. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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John Major's double warning for Theresa May

The former Tory Prime Minister broke his silence with a very loud rebuke. 

A month after the Prime Minister stood in Chatham House to set out plans for free trading, independent Britain, her predecessor John Major took the floor to puncture what he called "cheap rhetoric".

Standing to attention like a weather forecaster, the former Tory Prime Minister warned of political gales ahead that could break up the union, rattle Brexit negotiations and rot the bonds of trust between politicians and the public even further.

Major said that as he had been on the losing side of the referendum, he had kept silent since June:

“This evening I don't wish to argue that the European Union is perfect, plainly it isn't. Nor do I deny the economy has been more tranquil than expected since the decision to leave was taken. 

“But I do observe that we haven't yet left the European Union. And I watch with growing concern  that the British people have been led to expect a future that seems to be unreal and over-optimistic.”

A seasoned EU negotiator himself, he warned that achieving a trade deal within two years after triggering Article 50 was highly unlikely. Meanwhile, in foreign policy, a UK that abandoned the EU would have to become more dependent on an unpalatable Trumpian United States.

Like Tony Blair, another previous Prime Minister turned Brexit commentator, Major reminded the current occupant of No.10 that 48 per cent of the country voted Remain, and that opinion might “evolve” as the reality of Brexit became clear.

Unlike Blair, he did not call for a second referendum, stressing instead the role of Parliament. But neither did he rule it out.

That was the first warning. 

But it may be Major's second warning that turns out to be the most prescient. Major praised Theresa May's social policy, which he likened to his dream of a “classless society”. He focused his ire instead on those Brexiteers whose promises “are inflated beyond any reasonable expectation of delivery”. 

The Prime Minister understood this, he claimed, but at some point in the Brexit negotiations she will have to confront those who wish for total disengagement from Europe.

“Although today they be allies of the Prime Minister, the risk is tomorrow they may not,” he warned.

For these Brexiteers, the outcome of the Article 50 negotiations did not matter, he suggested, because they were already ideologically committed to an uncompromising version of free trade:

“Some of the most committed Brexit supporters wish to have a clean break and trade only under World Trade Organisation rules. This would include tariffs on goods with nothing to help services. This would not be a panacea for the UK  - it would be the worst possible outcome. 

“But to those who wish to see us go back to a deregulated low cost enterprise economy, it is an attractive option, and wholly consistent with their philosophy.”

There was, he argued, a choice to be made about the foundations of the economic model: “We cannot move to a radical enterprise economy without moving away from a welfare state. 

“Such a direction of policy, once understood by the public, would never command support.”

Major's view of Brexit seems to be a slow-motion car crash, but one where zealous free marketeers like Daniel Hannan are screaming “faster, faster”, on speaker phone. At the end of the day, it is the mainstream Tory party that will bear the brunt of the collision. 

Asked at the end of his speech whether he, like Margaret Thatcher during his premiership, was being a backseat driver, he cracked a smile. 

“I would have been very happy for Margaret to make one speech every eight months,” he said. As for today? No doubt Theresa May will be pleased to hear he is planning another speech on Scotland soon. 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.