Labour cuts Tory poll lead despite troubles

Will the Tories ever deliver a deathblow to the government?

New Statesman - Polls Guide_1269340065886

Latest poll (Sun/YouGov): Labour 31 seats short of a majority

With industrial strife, a sleaze scandal and a record Budget deficit on its hands, you'd expect Labour to be languishing in the polls. But instead, the latest polls show the party narrowing the gap on the Tories.

The YouGov daily tracker put the Conservatives down 2 to 36 per cent, with Labour up 1 to 32 per cent. Meanwhile, a new Opinium survey for the Express shows the Tories' lead falling 4 points to 7 per cent.

We've all become slightly desensitised to the falling Conservative lead, but it's still remarkable for it to be this small at this stage of the electoral cycle.

New Statesman poll of polls

New Statesman - Polls Guide_1269340116897

Hung parliament; Labour 38 seats short

I'm not surprised that the Tories' attack on the trade unions and their claim that we've regressed to an era of 1970s militantism has had no discernible effect on the polls.

Most voters are astute enough to realise that there is no comparison between 1979, when 29.47 million working days were lost to industrial action, and the past year, when, even including recent disputes, well under a million have been lost.

In retrospect, the Tories may regret their decision to concentrate so much fire on Labour's links with the unions, rather than focusing on the economy and public services.

But otherwise, if the Conservatives can't deal a deathblow to the government this week, one has to wonder if they ever will.

Meanwhile, David Cameron has gone on the attack over Labour's claim that the Tories would scrap the winter fuel allowance, accusing ministers of "telling lies" and describing them as "appalling people".

It is unusual for a party leader to launch such a personal attack, mainly because voters hope and expect figures at this level to use more restrained and civil language.

It proves once again that the Tories still lack an attack dog to do that sort of work for them.

Follow the New Statesman team on Twitter.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

It's not WhatsApp that was at fault in the Westminster attacks. It's our prisons

Britain's criminal justice system neither deterred nor rehabilitated Khalid Masood, and may even have facilitated his radicalisation. 

The dust has settled, the evidence has been collected and the government has decided who is to blame for the attack on Westminster. That’s right, its WhatsApp and their end-to-end encryption of messages. Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, wants tech companies to install a backdoor into messages like these that the government can then access.

There are a couple of problems here, not least that Adrian Russell aka Khalid Masood was known to the security services but considered to be low-risk. Even if the government had had the ability to gain entry to his WhatsApp, they wouldn’t have used it. Then there’s the fact that end-to-end encryption doesn’t just protect criminals and terrorists – it protects users from criminals and terrorists. Any backdoor will be vulnerable to attack, not only from our own government and foreign powers, but by non-state actors including fraudsters, and other terrorists.

(I’m parking, also, the question of whether these are powers that should be handed to any government in perpetuity, particularly one in a country like Britain’s, where near-unchecked power is handed to the executive as long as it has a parliamentary majority.)

But the biggest problem is that there is an obvious area where government policy failed in the case of Masood: Britain’s prisons system.

Masood acted alone though it’s not yet clear if he was merely inspired by international jihadism – that is, he read news reports, watched their videos on social media and came up with the plan himself – or he was “enabled” – that is, he sought out and received help on how to plan his attack from the self-styled Islamic State.

But what we know for certain is that he was, as is a recurring feature of the “radicalisation journey”, in possession of a string of minor convictions from 1982 to 2002 and that he served jail time. As the point of having prisons is surely to deter both would-be offenders and rehabilitate its current occupants so they don’t offend again, Masood’s act of terror is an open-and-shut case of failure in the prison system. Not only he did prison fail to prevent him committing further crimes, he went on to commit one very major crime.  That he appears to have been radicalised in prison only compounds the failure.

The sad thing is that not so very long ago a Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice was thinking seriously about prison and re-offending. While there was room to critique some of Michael Gove’s solutions to that problem, they were all a hell of a lot better than “let’s ban WhatsApp”. 

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