Is the coalition losing the argument on cuts?

New poll shows 74 per cent of voters reject the speed and the scale of cuts.

As we enter the critical autumn period, it looks like the coalition is beginning to lose the political argument over cuts. A new Populus poll in today's Times (£) shows that 74 per cent of voters reject the speed and scale of the government's deficit reduction strategy. Just 22 per cent support George Osborne's decision to eliminate the deficit in one Parliament, with 37 per cent preferring Labour's original plan to halve the deficit by 2014 and the same number arguing that "protecting the vulnerable and keeping unemployment low" is a bigger priority than reducing the deficit.

And the rest of the poll won't make much better reading for Cameron and Osborne. The number of voters who think "the country as a whole will fare badly" has jumped from 52 per cent in June to 65 per cent today. Meanwhile, despite repeated assaults on "Labour's legacy", the poll finds that more voters blame the banks and the global recession for the deficit than Gordon Brown.

Finally, even in the absence of a permanent leader, the topline figures show Labour closing in on the Tories, who are just two points ahead on 39 per cent. Things aren't much better for the Lib Dems, who are down four to 14 per cent. But, as Peter Hoskin points out at Coffee House, it's not all bad news for the coalition. 59 per cent are happy with its performance overall and 53 per cent believe the government is handling the economy well.

Yet with the 20 October spending review now just over a month away, it's clear that the coalition hasn't done enough to prepare voters for what's to come: the most dramatic round of cuts since the Second World War. The Tories may yet hope to exploit the economic divisions that the Labour leadership contest has exposed but ministers should brace themselves for much worse polls than this one.

P.S. The most important finding from the poll, of course, is the news that 49 per cent of voters blame Cameron and Osborne for the deficit.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Jeremy Corbyn delivers a speech on the arts in north London on September 1, 2015. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Can Labour MPs force Corbyn to bring back shadow cabinet elections?

It is not up to the parliamentary party whether the contests are reintroduced. 

Soon after Jeremy Corbyn became the frontrunner in the Labour leadership contest, it was reported that he intended to bring back shadow cabinet elections. But as I later wrote, that's not the case. Corbyn has resolved that he will maintain the right to appoint his own team, rather than having it elected by MPs (as was the case before Ed Miliband changed the system in 2011). As he wrote in the NS: "Whoever emerges as leader on 12 September needs a shadow cabinet in place as soon as possible. I will appoint a strong, diverse shadow cabinet to hold this government to account from day one."

Now, ahead of his likely victory a week on Saturday, Corbyn is under pressure from some MPs to reverse his stance. Barry Sheerman, the former education select commitee chair, told me that he wanted a "serious discussion" within the PLP about the return of the elections. While some support their reinstatement on principled grounds, others recognise that there is a tactical advantage in Corbyn's opponents winning a mandate from MPs. His hand would be further weakened (he has the declared support of just 14 of his Commons colleagues). 

But their reinstatement is not as simple as some suggest. One senior MP told me that those demanding their return "had not read the rule book". Miliband's decision to scrap the elections was subsequently approved at party conference meaning that only this body can revive them. A simple majority of MPs is not enough. 

With Corbyn planning to have a new team in place as soon as possible after his election, there is little prospect of him proposing such upheaval at this point. Meanwhile, Chuka Umunna has attracted much attention by refusing to rule out joining the left-winger's shadow cabinet if he changes his stances on nuclear disarmament, Nato, the EU and taxation (a lengthy list). Umunna is unlikely to remain on the frontbench but having previously pledged not to serve, he now recognises that there is value in being seen to at least engage with Corbyn. Were he to simply adopt a stance of aggression, he would risk being blamed if the backbencher failed. It is one example of how the party's modernisers recognise they need to play a smarter game. I explore this subject further in my column in tomorrow's NS

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.