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.

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What Jeremy Corbyn gets right about the single market

Technically, you can be outside the EU but inside the single market. Philosophically, you're still in the EU. 

I’ve been trying to work out what bothers me about the response to Jeremy Corbyn’s interview on the Andrew Marr programme.

What bothers me about Corbyn’s interview is obvious: the use of the phrase “wholesale importation” to describe people coming from Eastern Europe to the United Kingdom makes them sound like boxes of sugar rather than people. Adding to that, by suggesting that this “importation” had “destroy[ed] conditions”, rather than laying the blame on Britain’s under-enforced and under-regulated labour market, his words were more appropriate to a politician who believes that immigrants are objects to be scapegoated, not people to be served. (Though perhaps that is appropriate for the leader of the Labour Party if recent history is any guide.)

But I’m bothered, too, by the reaction to another part of his interview, in which the Labour leader said that Britain must leave the single market as it leaves the European Union. The response to this, which is technically correct, has been to attack Corbyn as Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland are members of the single market but not the European Union.

In my view, leaving the single market will make Britain poorer in the short and long term, will immediately render much of Labour’s 2017 manifesto moot and will, in the long run, be a far bigger victory for right-wing politics than any mere election. Corbyn’s view, that the benefits of freeing a British government from the rules of the single market will outweigh the costs, doesn’t seem very likely to me. So why do I feel so uneasy about the claim that you can be a member of the single market and not the European Union?

I think it’s because the difficult truth is that these countries are, de facto, in the European Union in any meaningful sense. By any estimation, the three pillars of Britain’s “Out” vote were, firstly, control over Britain’s borders, aka the end of the free movement of people, secondly, more money for the public realm aka £350m a week for the NHS, and thirdly control over Britain’s own laws. It’s hard to see how, if the United Kingdom continues to be subject to the free movement of people, continues to pay large sums towards the European Union, and continues to have its laws set elsewhere, we have “honoured the referendum result”.

None of which changes my view that leaving the single market would be a catastrophe for the United Kingdom. But retaining Britain’s single market membership starts with making the argument for single market membership, not hiding behind rhetorical tricks about whether or not single market membership was on the ballot last June, when it quite clearly was. 

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