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.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

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

0800 7318496