Tories hit 2010 poll high as Lib Dems flatline

But how long will the honeymoon last?

The latest daily YouGov/Sun poll is notable for the Conservatives hitting a 2010 high of 43 per cent, while the Lib Dems continue to flatline on 15 per cent. The Tories will be relieved that, despite Labour's best efforts, the row over Michael Gove's botched schools list has failed to dent their popularity.

With the coalition still in its honeymoon period, perhaps it's not surprising that the Tories are polling well, but unless the Lib Dems' ratings improve, we can expect tensions to grow in the run-up to the conference season. Fears that Nick Clegg's party are the convenient fall guys for George Osborne's cuts are growing by the day.

Reporting the poll on Twitter last night, the Sun's politics team chose to run with the line: "what chance a snap election now to dump the Libs?" This may just be mischievous speculation, but it ignores that in recent weeks David Cameron has signalled that he views the coalition not as an alliance of convenience, but as a vehicle for realigning British politics. There is no chance of Cameron calling an early election.

New Statesman Poll of Polls

Polls

Conservative majority of 14.

Many expect the coalition to become rapidly unpopular once the cuts begin to bite, although there is some psephological evidence to suggest that this need not be case.

Tory MPs point to a recent study by Ben Broadbent and Adrian Paul of Goldman Sachs which looked at the relationship between fiscal tightening and electoral support. The results suggested that, if anything, fiscal rentrenchment increases support for the governing party.

As Broadbent and Paul write: "The three governments that have executed the most high-profile expenditure-based deficit reductions -- Ireland in 1987, Sweden in 1994 and Canada in 1994 -- were all re-elected."

But I'm still confident that the rise in VAT to 20 per cent from next year will hit the government hard. As in the case of the abolition of the 10p tax rate, it's the sort of measure people notice only once it's implemented. For political as well as economic reasons, George Osborne would be wise to call off this regressive tax rise.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Boris Johnson is right about Saudi Arabia - but will he stick to his tune in Riyadh?

The Foreign Secretary went off script, but on truth. 

The difference a day makes. On Wednesday Theresa May was happily rubbing shoulders with Saudi Royalty at the Gulf Co-operation Council summit and talking about how important she thinks the relationship is.

Then on Thursday, the Guardian rained on her parade by publishing a transcript of her Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, describing the regime as a "puppeteer" for "proxy wars" while speaking at an international conference last week.

We will likely never know how she reacted when she first heard the news, but she’s unlikely to have been happy. It was definitely off-script for a UK foreign secretary. Until Johnson’s accidental outburst, the UK-Saudi relationship had been one characterised by mutual backslapping, glamorous photo-ops, major arms contracts and an unlimited well of political support.

Needless to say, the Prime Minister put him in his place as soon as possible. Within a few hours it was made clear that his words “are not the government’s views on Saudi and its role in the region". In an unequivocal statement, Downing Street stressed that Saudi is “a vital partner for the UK” and reaffirmed its support for the Saudi-led air strikes taking place in Yemen.

For over 18 months now, UK fighter jets and UK bombs have been central to the Saudi-led destruction of the poorest country in the region. Schools, hospitals and homes have been destroyed in a bombing campaign that has created a humanitarian catastrophe.

Despite the mounting death toll, the arms exports have continued unabated. Whitehall has licensed over £3.3bn worth of weapons since the intervention began last March. As I write this, the UK government is actively working with BAE Systems to secure the sale of a new generation of the same fighter jets that are being used in the bombing.

There’s nothing new about UK leaders getting close to Saudi Arabia. For decades now, governments of all political colours have worked hand-in-glove with the arms companies and Saudi authorities. Our leaders have continued to bend over backwards to support them, while turning a blind eye to the terrible human rights abuses being carried out every single day.

Over recent years we have seen Tony Blair intervening to stop an investigation into arms exports to Saudi and David Cameron flying out to Riyadh to meet with royalty. Last year saw the shocking but ultimately unsurprising revelation that UK civil servants had lobbied for Saudi Arabia to sit on the UN Human Rights Council, a move which would seem comically ironic if the consequences weren’t so serious.

The impact of the relationship hasn’t just been to boost and legitimise the Saudi dictatorship - it has also debased UK policy in the region. The end result is a hypocritical situation in which the government is rightly calling on Russian forces to stop bombing civilian areas in Aleppo, while at the same time arming and supporting Saudi Arabia while it unleashes devastation on Yemen.

It would be nice to think that Johnson’s unwitting intervention could be the start of a new stage in UK-Saudi relations; one in which the UK stops supporting dictatorships and calls them out on their appalling human rights records. Unfortunately it’s highly unlikely. Last Sunday, mere days after his now notorious speech, Johnson appeared on the Andrew Marr show and, as usual, stressed his support for his Saudi allies.

The question for Johnson is which of these seemingly diametrically opposed views does he really hold? Does he believe Saudi Arabia is a puppeteer that fights proxy wars and distorts Islam, or does he see it as one of the UK’s closest allies?

By coincidence Johnson is due to visit Riyadh this weekend. Will he be the first Foreign Secretary in decades to hold the Saudi regime accountable for its abuses, or will he cozy up to his hosts and say it was all one big misunderstanding?

If he is serious about peace and about the UK holding a positive influence on the world stage then he must stand by his words and use his power to stop the arms sales and hold the UK’s "puppeteer" ally to the same standard as other aggressors. Unfortunately, if history is anything to go by, then we shouldn’t hold our breath.

Andrew Smith is a spokesman for Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). You can follow CAAT at @CAATuk.