A majority of voters think cuts go too far

Two polls show that voters think cuts are unfair and will have most impact on the unemployed and dis

Voters are increasingly uncertain about government cuts, and in particular the coalition's claim to "fairness", according to two new polls out today.

In the Populus/Times (£) poll, 58 per cent of voters said that the Spending Review was unfair, with 20 per cent becoming more pessimistic about this since June.

The Guardian/ICM poll found that 48 per cent of voters think the cuts go too far, and just 36 per cent think the balance is right. This is a big drop from June, when 55 per cent said that the balance of cuts was right.

David Cameron and George Osborne's promise that those with the "broadest shoulders" would bear the biggest burden has obviously not got through to voters. In the Populus poll, people were asked to rate out of 10 the impact of cuts on different groups.

They said that the unemployed were most vulnerable, with 6.98, followed by the armed forces on 6.8 and disabled people on 6.3. Rich people were scored just 3.6. However, there is one group that has a majority of people who believe that the coalition has successfully protected the most vulnerable – Conservative voters.

In the ICM poll, te increasing discomfort with cuts was not matched in a boost for Labour, as you might expect. The headline figures put the Tories back in the lead, on 39 points to Labour's 36, with the Lib Dems trailing behind at 16.

However, the Populus poll has Labour 1 point ahead, on 38 per cent to the Conservatives' 37. The Lib Dems are way back at 15 points here, too. These figures, though slightly different in each poll, are still within the margin of error.

Meanwhile, YouGov's daily poll for the Sun has Labour and the Tories neck and neck on 40 points each, with the Lib Dems on 11. This is the first time the daily poll has shown Labour catching up with the Tories since their post-conference boost.

The overall picture, then, is of the gap gradually growing narrower. Over at UK Polling Report, Anthony Wells concludes that "the Spending Review may have led to a genuine narrowing in the polls".

The challenge for the opposition now is to capitalise on growing doubt about the fairness and speed of cuts. Such moves will be ineffective if it criticises all cuts uniltarerally. The key is to presenting a credible alternative programme, while highlighting the terrible human impact that specific cutbacks – such as those to housing benefit – will have.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Why Barack Obama was right to release Chelsea Manning

A Presidential act of mercy is good for Manning, but also for the US.

In early 2010, a young US military intelligence analyst on an army base near Baghdad slipped a Lady Gaga CD into a computer and sang along to the music. In fact, the soldier's apparently upbeat mood hid two facts. 

First, the soldier later known as Chelsea Manning was completely alienated from army culture, and the callous way she believed it treated civilians in Iraq. And second, she was quietly erasing the music on her CDs and replacing it with files holding explosive military data, which she would release to the world via Wikileaks. 

To some, Manning is a free speech hero. To others, she is a traitor. President Barack Obama’s decision to commute her 35-year sentence before leaving office has been blasted as “outrageous” by leading Republican Paul Ryan. Other Republican critics argue Obama is rewarding an act that endangered the lives of soldiers and intelligence operatives while giving ammunition to Russia. 

They have a point. Liberals banging the drum against Russia’s leak offensive during the US election cannot simultaneously argue leaks are inherently good. 

But even if you think Manning was deeply misguided in her use of Lady Gaga CDs, there are strong reasons why we should celebrate her release. 

1. She was not judged on the public interest

Manning was motivated by what she believed to be human rights abuses in Iraq, but her public interest defence has never been tested. 

The leaks were undoubtedly of public interest. As Manning said in the podcast she recorded with Amnesty International: “When we made mistakes, planning operations, innocent people died.” 

Thanks to Manning’s leak, we also know about the Vatican hiding sex abuse scandals in Ireland, plus the UK promising to protect US interests during the Chilcot Inquiry. 

In countries such as Germany, Canada and Denmark, whistle blowers in sensitive areas can use a public interest defence. In the US, however, such a defence does not exist – meaning it is impossible for Manning to legally argue her actions were in the public good. 

2. She was deemed worse than rapists and murderers

Her sentence was out of proportion to her crime. Compare her 35-year sentence to that received by William Millay, a young police officer, also in 2013. Caught in the act of trying to sell classified documents to someone he believed was a Russian intelligence officer, he was given 16 years

According to Amnesty International: “Manning’s sentence was much longer than other members of the military convicted of charges such as murder, rape and war crimes, as well as any others who were convicted of leaking classified materials to the public.”

3. Her time in jail was particularly miserable 

Manning’s conditions in jail do nothing to dispel the idea she has been treated extraordinarily harshly. When initially placed in solitary confinement, she needed permission to do anything in her cell, even walking around to exercise. 

When she requested treatment for her gender dysphoria, the military prison’s initial response was a blanket refusal – despite the fact many civilian prisons accept the idea that trans inmates are entitled to hormones. Manning has attempted suicide several times. She finally received permission to receive gender transition surgery in 2016 after a hunger strike

4. Julian Assange can stop acting like a martyr

Internationally, Manning’s continued incarceration was likely to do more harm than good. She has said she is sorry “for hurting the US”. Her worldwide following has turned her into an icon of US hypocrisy on free speech.

Then there's the fact Wikileaks said its founder Julian Assange would agree to be extradited to the US if Manning was released. Now that Manning is months away from freedom, his excuses for staying in the Equadorian London Embassy to avoid Swedish rape allegations are somewhat feebler.  

As for the President - under whose watch Manning was prosecuted - he may be leaving his office with his legacy in peril, but with one stroke of his pen, he has changed a life. Manning, now 29, could have expected to leave prison in her late 50s. Instead, she'll be free before her 30th birthday. And perhaps the Equadorian ambassador will finally get his room back. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.