Will Cameron soon be the leader under pressure?

As Labour opens up an 8-point lead over the Tories, the narrative could soon change.

It may just be one poll, but this morning's ComRes/Independent survey putting Labour 8 points ahead of the Conservatives is a big boost for Ed Miliband. The poll puts Labour up 2 points to 42 per cent, with the Tories down 2 points to 34 per cent and the Lib Dems unchanged on 12 per cent.

The 8-point lead is the largest Labour has recorded since 2007 and the Tories haven't been as low as 34 per cent since May.

While support for the Lib Dems has plummeted since the general election (to as little as 7 per cent), support for the Tories has remained surprisingly robust, until now. With Labour also likely to triumph in the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election on Thursday, Miliband will win some of the breathing space he needs.

Should the Conservatives either outperform or underperform expectations, Cameron will come under pressure. If the Tories do worse than expected in the by-election, he will be attacked for giving the Lib Dems a virtual free ride. If they do better than expected, he will be attacked for missing out on a seat the Tories could have won (they were just 2,413 votes behind Labour at the general election).

Yesterday I suggested that a little bit of populism on bankers' bonuses would do Ed Miliband no harm. Today we learn that the Conservatives fear as much. The Telegraph's Benedict Brogan writes:

Tory high command wories that if it goes soft on the banks the numbers will get worse. Those who have pressed the coalition and specifically the Chancellor to speak out against banker-bashing are told each time that the coalition has to keep public attitudes in mind. Mr Osborne believes voters loathe the banks and blame them for the financial crisis.

Despite his status as one of the least electorally successful Tory prime ministers in history, Cameron has come under little pressure since the election. Instead, it is Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband who have attracted the greatest media criticism. But if, as seems likely, the Conservatives enter a period of sustained unpopularity, the narrative could soon change.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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PMQs review: Theresa May shows how her confidence has grown

After her Brexit speech, the PM declared of Jeremy Corbyn: "I've got a plan - he doesn't have a clue". 

The woman derided as “Theresa Maybe” believes she has neutralised that charge. Following her Brexit speech, Theresa May cut a far more confident figure at today's PMQs. Jeremy Corbyn inevitably devoted all six of his questions to Europe but failed to land a definitive blow.

He began by denouncing May for “sidelining parliament” at the very moment the UK was supposedly reclaiming sovereignty (though he yesterday praised her for guaranteeing MPs would get a vote). “It’s not so much the Iron Lady as the irony lady,” he quipped. But May, who has sometimes faltered against Corbyn, had a ready retort. The Labour leader, she noted, had denounced the government for planning to leave the single market while simultaneously seeking “access” to it. Yet “access”, she went on, was precisely what Corbyn had demanded (seemingly having confused it with full membership). "I've got a plan - he doesn't have a clue,” she declared.

When Corbyn recalled May’s economic warnings during the referendum (“Does she now disagree with herself?”), the PM was able to reply: “I said if we voted to leave the EU the sky would not fall in and look at what has happened to our economic situation since we voted to leave the EU”.

Corbyn’s subsequent question on whether May would pay for single market access was less wounding than it might have been because she has consistently refused to rule out budget contributions (though yesterday emphasised that the days of “vast” payments were over).

When the Labour leader ended by rightly hailing the contribution immigrants made to public services (“The real pressure on public services comes from a government that slashed billions”), May took full opportunity of the chance to have the last word, launching a full-frontal attack on his leadership and a defence of hers. “There is indeed a difference - when I look at the issue of Brexit or any other issues like the NHS or social care, I consider the issue, I set out my plan and I stick to it. It's called leadership, he should try it some time.”

For May, life will soon get harder. Once Article 50 is triggered, it is the EU 27, not the UK, that will take back control (the withdrawal agreement must be approved by at least 72 per cent of member states). With MPs now guaranteed a vote on the final outcome, parliament will also reassert itself. But for now, May can reflect with satisfaction on her strengthened position.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.