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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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.