Four in ten think worse of Cameron after phone-hacking

However, polls show a mixed picture, as Tories suffer only a small negative effect.

Two polls today show contradictory results for the two main parties in the aftermath of the phone-hacking crisis.

An ICM/Guardian poll shows Labour down since before the scandal broke, at 36 points to the Conservatives' 37. This is the first time the Tories have had the lead in an ICM poll in months, although Labour's three-point drop is due to a rise in Lib Dem support, not Tory. By contrast, a Populus poll for the Times (£) shows the Conservatives sharply down, with 34 points to Labour's 39. This is down five points on last month, and the lowest in a Populus poll since the coalition was formed. Despite this drop, however, Labour did not appear to have benefitted, and at 39 were a point down on last month.

The Populus poll found that four out of ten members of the public (39 per cent) said they thought worse of David Cameron as a result of the last fortnight's revelations, while 55 per cent said their view of him was unchanged.

Just 14 per cent said their view of Ed Miliband had improved as a result of the phone-hacking scandal, while 20 per cent said it had gone down, and 61 per cent were unchanged. Westminster and media circles have lauded Miliband's handling of the crisis and say that it has reinvigorated his leadership of the party. This result may indicate that this has not filtered through to the public as much as Labour had hoped.

The ICM poll is similarly disheartening for Miliband. The group phrased its question on the leaders differently; UK Polling Report explains that questions of the type asked by Populus "tend to give misleading results -- people who never liked a politician to start with say it's made their view worse and vice-versa."

Instead, ICM asked people for approval ratings before and after the event, and found that Cameron remains more popular than either his government or other leading politicians, although more people think he is doing a bad job than a good one. 43 per cent of voters say he is doing a good job, while 48 per cent say bad job, both up one point from last month. This gives him a net negative rating of -5.

By contrast, just 31 per cent say Miliband is doing a good job -- although this is up three points on last month -- while 47 per cent say he is doing a bad job, down two. This means his net rating is -16, up from -21 last month. It's a significant improvement, but there is a long way to go yet. The positive reaction to Miliband's handling of the crisis is stronger among Labour supporterss, 58 per cent now think he is doing a good job, compared with 45 per cent last month.

While the picture from these polls is mixed, we can draw the following conclusions: the Tories have, so far at least, suffered only a small negative effect in the polls because of the crisis. While a majority of the public thinks that Cameron has handled the crisis badly, his broader approval ratings are holding up and -- crucially -- are still substantially ahead of both Miliband and Nick Clegg. Miliband has certainly seen a boost in how the public perceive him, but he still has a long way to go to catch up with Cameron, and this bounce has not been reflected in greater support for Labour. It remains to be seen whether Miliband can capitalise on these modest gains when the news agenda moves on.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Theresa May defies the right by maintaining 0.7% aid pledge

The Prime Minister offers rare continuity with David Cameron but vows to re-examine how the money is spent. 

From the moment Theresa May became Prime Minister, there was speculation that she would abandon the UK's 0.7 per cent aid pledge. She appointed Priti Patel, a previous opponent of the target, as International Development Secretary and repeatedly refused to extend the commitment beyond this parliament. When an early general election was called, the assumption was that 0.7 per cent would not make the manifesto.

But at a campaign event in her Maidenhead constituency, May announced that it would. "Let’s be clear – the 0.7 per cent commitment remains, and will remain," she said in response to a question from the Daily Telegraph's Kate McCann. But she added: "What we need to do, though, is to look at how that money will be spent, and make sure that we are able to spend that money in the most effective way." May has left open the possibility that the UK could abandon the OECD definition of aid and potentially reclassify defence spending for this purpose.

Yet by maintaining the 0.7 per cent pledge, May has faced down her party's right and title such as the Sun and the Daily Mail. On grammar schools, climate change and Brexit, Tory MPs have cheered the Prime Minister's stances but she has now upheld a key component of David Cameron's legacy. George Osborne was one of the first to praise May's decision, tweeting: "Recommitment to 0.7% aid target very welcome. Morally right, strengthens UK influence & was key to creating modern compassionate Conservatives".

A Conservative aide told me that the announcement reflected May's personal commitment to international development, pointing to her recent speech to International Development staff. 

But another Cameron-era target - the state pension "triple lock" - appears less secure. Asked whether the government would continue to raise pensions every year, May pointed to the Tories' record, rather than making any future commitment. The triple lock, which ensures pensions rise in line with average earnings, CPI inflation or by 2.5 per cent (whichever is highest), has long been regarded by some Conservatives as unaffordable. 

Meanwhile, Philip Hammond has hinted that the Tories' "tax lock", which bars increases in income tax, VAT and National Insurance, could be similarly dropped. He said: "I’m a Conservative. I have no ideological desire to to raise taxes. But we need to manage the economy sensibly and sustainably. We need to get the fiscal accounts back into shape.

"It was self evidently clear that the commitments that were made in the 2015 manifesto did and do today constrain the ability to manage the economy flexibly."

May's short speech to workers at a GlaxoSmithKline factory was most notable for her emphasis that "the result is not certain" (the same message delivered by Jeremy Corbyn yesterday). As I reported on Wednesday, the Tories fear that the belief that Labour cannot win could reduce their lead as voters conclude there is no need to turn out. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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