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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Theresa May’s stage-managed election campaign keeps the public at bay

Jeremy Corbyn’s approach may be chaotic, but at least it’s more authentic.

The worst part about running an election campaign for a politician? Having to meet the general public. Those ordinary folk can be a tricky lot, with their lack of regard for being on-message, and their pesky real-life concerns.

But it looks like Theresa May has decided to avoid this inconvenience altogether during this snap general election campaign, as it turns out her visit to Leeds last night was so stage-managed that she barely had to face the public.

Accusations have been whizzing around online that at a campaign event at the Shine building in Leeds, the Prime Minister spoke to a room full of guests invited by the party, rather than local people or people who work in the building’s office space.

The Telegraph’s Chris Hope tweeted a picture of the room in which May was addressing her audience yesterday evening a little before 7pm. He pointed out that, being in Leeds, she was in “Labour territory”:

But a few locals who spied this picture online claimed that the audience did not look like who you’d expect to see congregated at Shine – a grade II-listed Victorian school that has been renovated into a community project housing office space and meeting rooms.

“Ask why she didn’t meet any of the people at the business who work in that beautiful building. Everyone there was an invite-only Tory,” tweeted Rik Kendell, a Leeds-based developer and designer who says he works in the Shine building. “She didn’t arrive until we’d all left for the day. Everyone in the building past 6pm was invite-only . . . They seemed to seek out the most clinical corner for their PR photos. Such a beautiful building to work in.”

Other tweeters also found the snapshot jarring:

Shine’s founders have pointed out that they didn’t host or invite Theresa May – rather the party hired out the space for a private event: “All visitors pay for meeting space in Shine and we do not seek out, bid for, or otherwise host any political parties,” wrote managing director Dawn O'Keefe. The guestlist was not down to Shine, but to the Tory party.

The audience consisted of journalists and around 150 Tory activists, according to the Guardian. This was instead of employees from the 16 offices housed in the building. I have asked the Conservative Party for clarification of who was in the audience and whether it was invite-only and am awaiting its response.

Jeremy Corbyn accused May of “hiding from the public”, and local Labour MP Richard Burgon commented that, “like a medieval monarch, she simply briefly relocated her travelling court of admirers to town and then moved on without so much as a nod to the people she considers to be her lowly subjects”.

But it doesn’t look like the Tories’ painstaking stage-management is a fool-proof plan. Having uniform audiences of the party faithful on the campaign trail seems to be confusing the Prime Minister somewhat. During a visit to a (rather sparsely populated) factory in Clay Cross, Derbyshire, yesterday, she appeared to forget where exactly on the campaign trail she was:

The management of Corbyn’s campaign has also resulted in gaffes – but for opposite reasons. A slightly more chaotic approach has led to him facing the wrong way, with his back to the cameras.

Corbyn’s blunder is born out of his instinct to address the crowd rather than the cameras – May’s problem is the other way round. Both, however, seem far more comfortable talking to the party faithful, even if they are venturing out of safe seat territory.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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