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


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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Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.