No significant shift away from Lib Dems, poll shows

There has been no mass defection of voters to Labour from the Liberal Democrats.

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Latest poll (ICM/Guardian): Conservatives 25 seats short of a majority.

After a record number of polls during the election campaign it all went quiet for a while. But with a few now published, some revealing trends are beginning to emerge.

The first ICM/Guardian poll since the election has been released, and shows the Conservatives on 39 per cent (+1), Labour on 32 per cent (-1) and the Liberal Democrats unchanged on 21 per cent, figures identical to those in the most recent YouGov poll.

Lib Dem support is down 3 points since the election, but that's in line with past trends and suggests no significant shift against Nick Clegg's party.

I have always been sceptical of claims that the Lib Dems' decision to enter government with the Tories would prompt a wave of defections to Labour. So it's worth noting that most voters say the coalition agreement has made no difference to their decision to support the Lib Dems and that a quarter say it will make them more likely to vote for the party.

Fifty-nine per cent of voters approve of the coalition agreement, almost exactly the joint share of voters who support the Tories and the Lib Dems, with 32 per cent opposed.

New Statesman Poll of Polls

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Hung parliament; Conservatives 25 seats short.

Most encouraging, as the coalition prepares to announce plans for a referendum on the Alternative Vote, is the strong public support for electoral reform, giving the lie to the canard that this is an elite interest. Fifty-six per cent of voters are in favour of a more proportional system, with 38 per cent opposed.

There is even a significant minority of Conservatives -- 45 per cent -- in favour of reform, with 49 per cent supporting retention of first-past-the-post.

I'm not expecting to see a Tories for Electoral Reform group start up any time soon, but it is heartening to know that David Cameron's claim that reform would hand more power to the "political elites" has been ignored by at least some of his own voters.

Special offer: get 12 issues of the New Statesman for just £5.99 plus a free copy of "Liberty in the Age of Terror" by A C Grayling.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The future of policing is still at risk even after George Osborne's U-Turn

The police have avoided the worst, but crime is changing and they cannot stand still. 

We will have to wait for the unofficial briefings and the ministerial memoirs to understand what role the tragic events in Paris had on the Chancellor’s decision to sustain the police budget in cash terms and increase it overall by the end of the parliament.  Higher projected tax revenues gave the Chancellor a surprising degree of fiscal flexibility, but the atrocities in Paris certainly pushed questions of policing and security to the top of the political agenda. For a police service expecting anything from a 20 to a 30 per cent cut in funding, fears reinforced by the apparent hard line the Chancellor took over the weekend, this reprieve is an almighty relief.  

So, what was announced?  The overall police budget will be protected in real terms (£900 million more in cash terms) up to 2019/20 with the following important caveats.  First, central government grant to forces will be reduced in cash terms by 2019/20, but forces will be able to bid into a new transformation fund designed to finance moves such as greater collaboration between forces.  In other words there is a cash frozen budget (given important assumptions about council tax) eaten away by inflation and therefore requiring further efficiencies and service redesign.

Second, the flat cash budget for forces assumes increases in the police element of the council tax. Here, there is an interesting new flexibility for Police and Crime Commissioners.  One interpretation is that instead of precept increases being capped at 2%, they will be capped at £12 million, although we need further detail to be certain.  This may mean that forces which currently raise relatively small cash amounts from their precept will be able to raise considerably more if Police and Crime Commissioners have the courage to put up taxes.  

With those caveats, however, this is clearly a much better deal for policing than most commentators (myself included) predicted.  There will be less pressure to reduce officer numbers. Neighbourhood policing, previously under real threat, is likely to remain an important component of the policing model in England and Wales.  This is good news.

However, the police service should not use this financial reprieve as an excuse to duck important reforms.  The reforms that the police have already planned should continue, with any savings reinvested in an improved and more effective service.

It would be a retrograde step for candidates in the 2016 PCC elections to start pledging (as I am certain many will) to ‘protect officer numbers’.  We still need to rebalance the police workforce.   We need more staff with the kind of digital skills required to tackle cybercrime.  We need more crime analysts to help deploy police resources more effectively.  Blanket commitments to maintain officer numbers will get in the way of important reforms.

The argument for inter-force collaboration and, indeed, force mergers does not go away. The new top sliced transformation fund is designed in part to facilitate collaboration, but the fact remains that a 43 force structure no longer makes sense in operational or financial terms.

The police still have to adapt to a changing world. Falling levels of traditional crime and the explosion in online crime, particularly fraud and hacking, means we need an entirely different kind of police service.  Many of the pressures the police experience from non-crime demand will not go away. Big cuts to local government funding and the wider criminal justice system mean we need to reorganise the public service frontline to deal with problems such as high reoffending rates, child safeguarding and rising levels of mental illness.

Before yesterday I thought policing faced an existential moment and I stand by that. While the service has now secured significant financial breathing space, it still needs to adapt to an increasingly complex world. 

Rick Muir is director of the Police Foundation