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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The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

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