Are we witnessing a Lib Dem revival?

New ICM poll puts the party on 18 per cent, their highest rating since September.

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Latest poll (ICM/Guardian): Labour majority of 20 seats (uniform swing)

It's just one poll, but the latest monthly ICM/Guardian survey will cheer the Lib Dems up this morning. It puts Nick Clegg's party up 3 points to 18 per cent, their highest rating in any survey since September.

ICM has persistently shown higher Liberal Democrat ratings than other pollsters, although it's notable that the Lib Dems' share of the vote has also increased in recent YouGov surveys.

At one point it looked as if Chris Huhne's prediction that support for his party would fall to 5 per cent would come true (a YouGov poll published on 7 January put the Lib Dems on just 7 per cent) but six of the last eight YouGov polls have put them on 10 per cent and today's has them on 11 per cent.

New Statesman Poll of Polls

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Labour majority of 76 (uniform swing)

To be sure, this remains a disastrously low poll rating: a drop of 14 points since the election and of 24 points since "Cleggmania". But it's still worth asking the question: is the worst over for the Lib Dems? Some of the anger over tuition fees has dissipated and, as payments are made retrospectively, the party won't necessarily suffer when fees of £9,000 arrive in 2012.

It's also possible that some Lib Dems have returned to the fold as the anti-cuts backlash has begun to reduce Conservative support. As I noted last week, the Tories' "human shields" are no longer protecting them from public discontent.

It remains safe to assume that the Lib Dems will lose both votes and seats at the next election: the fees bill was Clegg's Iraq moment, a profound breach of trust for which the party will pay dearly. But for the first time in months, Lib Dem supporters have some grounds for optimism.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The big problem for the NHS? Local government cuts

Even a U-Turn on planned cuts to the service itself will still leave the NHS under heavy pressure. 

38Degrees has uncovered a series of grisly plans for the NHS over the coming years. Among the highlights: severe cuts to frontline services at the Midland Metropolitan Hospital, including but limited to the closure of its Accident and Emergency department. Elsewhere, one of three hospitals in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland are to be shuttered, while there will be cuts to acute services in Suffolk and North East Essex.

These cuts come despite an additional £8bn annual cash injection into the NHS, characterised as the bare minimum needed by Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England.

The cuts are outlined in draft sustainability and transformation plans (STP) that will be approved in October before kicking off a period of wider consultation.

The problem for the NHS is twofold: although its funding remains ringfenced, healthcare inflation means that in reality, the health service requires above-inflation increases to stand still. But the second, bigger problem aren’t cuts to the NHS but to the rest of government spending, particularly local government cuts.

That has seen more pressure on hospital beds as outpatients who require further non-emergency care have nowhere to go, increasing lifestyle problems as cash-strapped councils either close or increase prices at subsidised local authority gyms, build on green space to make the best out of Britain’s booming property market, and cut other corners to manage the growing backlog of devolved cuts.

All of which means even a bigger supply of cash for the NHS than the £8bn promised at the last election – even the bonanza pledged by Vote Leave in the referendum, in fact – will still find itself disappearing down the cracks left by cuts elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.