Lib Dems hit new poll low of 10 per cent

Support for party plummets to lowest level in 13 years.

One Liberal Democrat cabinet minister recently predicted that the spending cuts would see support for his party fall to 5 per cent. Things aren't that bad yet, but the latest daily YouGov poll puts the Lib Dems on just 10 per cent -- their lowest rating since September 1997 (an ICM poll at the time had Labour on 60, the Tories on 24 and the Lib Dems on 10).

Lib Dem ministers will shrug and declare, "There's only one poll that counts, and that's on election day," but the party's terrible ratings are beginning to sap morale among activists. For the Conservatives, the long-term fear is that the severe decline in Lib Dem popularity will pull the coalition apart as the party's MPs, fearful of losing their seats, begin to rebel to maintain their distinctiveness.


Latest poll (YouGov/Sun): Labour 5 seats short of a majority.

Meanwhile, a look at the sub-questions (the full data sets are here) suggests that the coalition is struggling to win the "fairness" debate. Forty-seven per cent of voters believe the public spending cuts are "unfair", while 36 per cent believe the opposite, describing them as "fair". Forty-four per cent (the largest group) believe the coalition is cutting too fast, although 60 per cent agree that the cuts were "unavoidable".

New Statesman Poll of Polls


Hung parliament: Labour 12 seats short

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, 48 per cent of voters blame the last Labour government for the cuts, with just 18 per cent blaming the coalition. As Jonathan Freedland argued this week, Labour must offer a much better explanation of the deficit if it is to be taken seriously again.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

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