The voters are finally turning against the Tories

Lib Dem “human shields” are no longer protecting the Tories from the cuts backlash.

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Latest poll (YouGov/Sun) Labour majority of 98.

Until recently it was common to hear Labour MPs warn that the Tories' use of the Lib Dems as "human shields" would insulate them from anger over the cuts. Their fears were supported by polls showing that support for the Conservatives had risen since the general election while support for the Lib Dems had fallen as low as 7 per cent. But this week, that began to change.

The latest daily YouGov survey puts Labour on 44 per cent, with the Tories on 35 per cent and the Lib Dems on 10 per cent. Conservative support is now at its lowest level since the election and what was a 3-5 point Labour lead has become a 7-9 point lead. Five of the last eight YouGov polls have put the Tories on less than 37 per cent.

New Statesman Poll of Polls

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Labour majority of 80 (uniform swing)

The VAT rise, combined with the stalled economic recovery, has turned public opinion decisively against the party for the first time since May. The boos that greeted Francis Maude's comments on Labour and the deficit on last night's Question Time were a sign of how the mood has changed.

In truth, they merely confirmed what polls have shown for some time: the majority of voters oppose the speed and scale of the coalition's fiscal retrenchment and largely blame the banks and the global recession for the deficit, not Labour.

The political result of the Tories' plummeting support will be a growing demand for what Tim Montgomerie calls "mainstream Conservative" policies and an impatience with perceived concessions to the Lib Dems. For months, Tory cabinet ministers have been more focused on the Lib Dems' poll ratings than their own but, after this week, that should begin to change.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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