Lib Dems hit a new poll low

Support for Clegg’s party falls to just 8 per cent – the lowest level in 20 years.

There's no chance of the coalition's tuition fees bill being defeated in the Commons this afternoon, but Nick Clegg's big day hasn't got off to a good start. The latest YouGov poll puts the Lib Dems on just 8 per cent, their lowest level of support in any survey since 1990.

As ever, one should add the caveat that this could be an outlier, but it will certainly concentrate MPs' minds ahead of the vote. Several have majorities smaller than the number of students and prospective students in their constituencies. If repeated at an election on a uniform swing, the latest figures would reduce Clegg's party to a rump of just ten seats.


Latest poll (YouGov/Sun): Labour majority of 2

It's the sense that the Lib Dems played fast and loose with the voters, rather than the decision to raise tuition fees itself, that is proving truly toxic for the party. The memory of Clegg's more-pious-than-thou act is still fresh enough for voters to be outraged by his policy reversal. As the FT's Alex Barker noted recently, the Lib Dem leader missed multiple opportunities to avoid this fate.

New Statesman poll of polls


Hung parliament, Labour 9 seats short

The Lib Dems must have known that their manifesto promise to phase out tuition fees would not survive a hung parliament. Indeed, there was every possibility that they would be forced to raise them. But still they chose to sign a specific (and highly publicised) NUS pledge for crude electoral purposes.

Clegg's subsequent decision to take "full ownership" of the coalition programme (perhaps his greatest mistake) meant that abstention was no longer a credible option. And, don't forget, a mass abstention would still have broken the election pledge to vote against any increase in fees.

The dizzying range of justifications since offered for the party's U-turn (the Greek crisis, the state of the public finances, the coalition agreement, the "progressive" nature of the new policy) has only further antagonised voters. The Lib Dems have alieanted swaths of their natural supporters. As things stand, there's little to suggest they'll win them back.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.