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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John McDonnell praises New Labour as he enters conciliatory mode

The shadow chancellor sought to build a bridge between the past and the present by crediting the 1997 government. 

Ever since Jeremy Corbyn became Labour leader, John McDonnell has been on a mission to reinvent himself as a kinder, gentler politician. He hasn’t always succeeded. In July, the shadow chancellor declared of rebel MPs: “As plotters they were fucking useless”.

But in his Labour conference speech, Corbyn’s closest ally was firmly in conciliatory mode. McDonnell thanked Owen Smith for his part in defeating the Personal Independence Payment cuts. He praised Caroline Flint, with whom he has clashed, for her amendment to the financial bill on corporate tax transparency. Jonathan Reynolds, who will soon return to the frontbench, was credited for the “patriots pay their taxes” campaign (the latter two not mentioned in the original text).

McDonnell’s ecunmenicism didn’t end here. The 1997 Labour government, against which he and Corbyn so often defined themselves, was praised for its introduction of the minimum wage (though McDonnell couldn’t quite bring himself to mention Tony Blair). Promising a “real Living Wage” of around £10 per hour, the shadow chancellor sought to build a bridge between the past and the present. Though he couldn’t resist adding some red water as he closed: “In this party you no longer have to whisper it, it's called socialism. Solidarity!”

As a rebuke to those who accuse him of seeking power in the party, not the country, McDonnell spoke relentlessly of what the next Labour “government” would do. He promised a £250bn National Investment Bank, a “Right to Own” for employees, the repeal of the Trade Union Act and declared himself “interested” in the potential of a Universal Basic Income. It was a decidedly wonkish speech, free of the attack lines and jokes that others serve up.

One of the more striking passages was on McDonnell’s personal story (a recurring feature of Labour speeches since Sadiq Khan’s mayoral victory). “I was born in the city [Liverpool], not far from here,” he recalled. “My dad was a Liverpool docker and my mum was a cleaner who then served behind the counter at British Homes Stores for 30 years. I was part of the 1960's generation.  We lived in what sociological studies have described as some of the worst housing conditions that exist within this country. We just called it home.”

In his peroration, he declared: “In the birthplace of John Lennon, it falls to us to inspire people to imagine.” Most Labour MPs believe that a government led by Corbyn and McDonnell will remain just that: imaginary. “You may say I'm a dreamer. But I'm not the only one,” the shadow chancellor could have countered. With his praise for New Labour, he began the work of forging his party’s own brotherhood of man.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.