A worrying poll for Labour

More people will blame Labour than the Tories if the economy gets worse.

On the surface, the latest Reuters/Ipsos MORI political monitor should gladden Labour souls. Last month's poll put the Tories neck and neck with Labour on 40 per cent, but this month's gives Ed Miliband's party a 7-point lead. Labour is up 2 points to 42 per cent and the Tories are down 5 points to 35 per cent.

But dig deeper and some worrying trends emerge for the red team. Net satisfaction with Miliband, which stood at +1 last month, is back down to -8 (see graph below). More worryingly, just 17 per cent of voters believe the Labour leader is ready to be prime minister, compared to 69 per cent who believe he is not.

By contrast, 31 per cent of voters say Labour is ready to form the next government, a finding that will again give Miliband's critics cause to ask if the party could be performing better under an alternative leader.

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Elsewhere, there's more evidence that voters share George Osborne's belief that the government is clearing up "Labour's mess". Asked who they will blame if the economy gets worse over the next 12 months, 22 per cent of respondents say the last Labour government but just 10 per cent say the Tories.

A total of 27 per cent would blame both the Tories and the Lib Dems but that's only 5 per cent more than would blame Labour. Given that the economy was growing at an annual rate of 4 per cent under Labour but has ground to a halt under Osborne, that's some achievement by the Conservatives. As Douglas Alexander recently lamented, Labour's marathon leadership contest allowed the coalition to define the terms of debate from the start.

Miliband's troubles, however, are as nothing compared to those of Nick Clegg. Net satisfaction with the Deputy PM has plummeted from -18 last month to -32 this month. For the first time, Clegg's approval rating is below that of the coalition. By contrast, net satisfaction with Cameron remains at -3, a poor rating but not terrible. Miliband, who has led Cameron in every MORI poll since January, is now behind the Prime Minister. Personal approval ratings are often a better long-term indicator of the next election result than voting intentions. Labour frequently led the Tories under Neil Kinnock, for instance, but Kinnock was never rated above John Major as a potential prime minister.

Can Labour defy history and win an election under an unpopular leader? That is the question some in the party will be asking today.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Just you wait – soon fake news will come to football

No point putting out a story saying that Chelsea got stuffed 19-1 by Spurs. Who would believe it, even if Donald Trump tweeted it?

So it is all settled: Cristiano Ronaldo will be arriving at Carlisle United at the end of the month, just before deadline day. It all makes sense. He has fallen in love with a Herdwick sheep, just as Beatrix Potter did, and like her, he is putting his money and energy into helping Cumbria, the land of the Herdwick.

He fell out with his lover in Morocco, despite having a private plane to take him straight from every Real Madrid game to their weekly assignation, the moment this particular Herdwick came into his life. His mother will be coming with him, as well as his son, Cristiano Ronaldo, Jr. They want to bring the boy
up communing with nature, able to roam free, walking among the lakes and fells.

Behind the scenes, his agent has bought up CUFC and half of Cumbria on his behalf, including Sellafield, so it is a wise investment. Clearly CUFC will be promoted this year – just look where they are in the table – then zoom-zoom, up they go, back in the top league, at which point his agent hopes they will be offered megabucks by some half-witted Chinese/Russian/Arab moneybags.

Do you believe all that? It is what we now call in the trade fake news, or post-truth – or, to keep it simple, a total lie, or, to be vulgar, complete bollocks. (I made it up, although a pundit on French TV hinted that he thought the bit about Ronaldo’s friend in Morocco might not be too far-fetched. The stuff about Beatrix Potter loving Herdwicks is kosher.)

Fake news is already the number-one topic in 2017. Just think about all those round robins you got with Christmas cards, filled with fake news, such as grandchildren doing brilliantly at school, Dad’s dahlias winning prizes, while we have just bought a gem in Broadstairs for peanuts.

Fake news is everywhere in the world of politics and economics, business and celebrity gossip, because all the people who really care about such topics are sitting all day on Facebook making it up. And if they can’t be arsed to make it up, they pass on rubbish they know is made up.

Fake news has long been with us. Instead of dropping stuff on the internet, they used to drop it from the skies. I have a copy of a leaflet that the German propaganda machine dropped over our brave lads on the front line during the war. It shows what was happening back in Blighty – handsome US soldiers in bed with the wives and girlfriends of our Tommies stuck at the front.

So does it happen in football? At this time of the year, the tabloids and Sky are obsessed by transfer rumours, or rumours of transfer rumours, working themselves into a frenzy of self-perpetuating excitement, until the final minute of deadline day, when the climax comes at last, uh hum – all over the studio, what a mess.

In Reality, which is where I live, just off the North Circular – no, down a bit, move left, got it – there is no such thing as fake news in football. We are immune from fantasy facts. OK, there is gossip about the main players – will they move or will they not, will they be sued/prosecuted/dropped?

Football is concerned with facts. You have to get more goals than the other team, then you win the game. Fact. Because all the Prem games are live on telly, we millions of supplicant fans can see with our eyes who won. No point putting out a story saying that Chelsea got stuffed 19-1 by Spurs. Who would believe it, even if Donald Trump tweeted it?

I suppose the Russkis could hack into the Sky transmissions, making the ball bounce back out of the goal again, or manipulating the replay so goals get scored from impossible angles, or fiddling the electronic scoreboards.

Hmm, now I think about it, all facts can be fiddled, in this electronic age. The Premier League table could be total fiction. Bring back pigeons. You could trust them for the latest news. Oh, one has just arrived. Ronaldo’s romance  with the Herdwick is off! And so am I. Off to Barbados and Bequia
for two weeks.

Hunter Davies’s latest book is “The Biscuit Girls” (Ebury Press, £6.99)

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 12 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's revenge