A poll bounce for the Tories

Latest YouGov poll puts the Tories on 39 per cent, just a point behind Labour.

The latest daily YouGov poll is the most striking for some time. It puts the Conservatives on 39 per cent, just a point behind Labour on 40 per cent. It's the narrowest Labour lead that YouGov has recorded since January and further evidence of a Tory recovery. The party's lead, which stood at nine points on 22 August has gradually eroded over the past week to seven points, five points, three points and now just one point.

A

Latest poll (YouGov/Sun): Labour majority of 10

There are various possible explanations for this. The Tories may have benefited from Cameron's robust response to the riots (polls showed that the public favoured disproportionate sentences) and the rebels' victory in Libya may also have aided their cause (public support for the intervention rose as a result). The parliamentary recess also means that there have been fewer of the "bad news" stories that seemed to plague the government earlier this year.

New Statesman Poll of Polls

A

Labour majority of 58

All the usual caveats apply, of course. The poll could be an outlier and we'll have a better idea of the state of play when the next YouGov poll is published tonight. But it certainly sets things up nicely for the conference season.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Donald Trump's threats give North Korea every reason it needs to keep nuclear weapons

The US president's warning that he may “totally destroy” the country is a gift to Kim Jong-un's regime. 

Even by Donald Trump's undiplomatic standards, his speech at the UN general assembly was remarkably reckless. To gasps from his audience, Trump vowed to "totally destroy" North Korea if it persisted with its threats and branded Kim Jong-un "rocket man". In an apparent resurrection of George W Bush's "axis of evil", the US president also declared: “If the righteous many do not confront the wicked few, then evil will triumph". 

For North Korea, Trump's words merely provide further justification for its nuclear weapons programme. Though the regime is typically depicted as crazed (and in some respects it is), its nuclear project rests on rational foundations. For Kim, the lesson from the fall of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi was that tyrants pay a price for relinquishing their arms. The persistent threats from the US strengthen the regime's domestic position and reinforce a siege mentality. Though North Korea must be deterred from a pre-emptive strike, it must also be offered incentives to pursue a different path. 

As Trump's Secretary of State Rex Tillerson remarked last month: "We do not seek a regime change, we do not seek a collapse of the regime, we do not seek an accelerated reunification of the peninsula, we do not seek an excuse to send our military north of the 38th Parallel. We are not your enemy... but you are presenting an unacceptable threat to us, and we have to respond. And we hope that at some point they will begin to understand that and we would like to sit and have a dialogue with them."

The present nadir reflects the failures of the past. In 1994, the Clinton administration persuaded North Korea to freeze its nuclear programme in return for economic and diplomatic concessions. A communique declared that neither state had "hostile intent" towards the other. But this progress was undone by the Bush administration, which branded North Korea a member of the "axis of evil" and refused to renew the communique.

The subsequent six-party talks (also including China, Russia South Korea and Japan) were similarly undermined by the US. As Korea expert Mike Chinoy records in the Washington Post in 2005, the Bush administration provocatively "designated Macau's Banco Delta Asia, where North Korea maintained dozens of accounts, as a 'suspected money-laundering concern.'" When a new agreement was reached in 2007, "Washington hard-liners demanded that Pyongyang accept inspections of its nuclear facilities so intrusive one American official described them a 'national proctologic exam'".

For North Korea, the benefits of nuclear weapons (a "treasured sword of justice" in Kim's words) continue to outweigh the costs. Even the toughened UN sanctions (which will ban one third of the country's $3bn exports) will not deter Pyongyang from this course. As Tillerson recognised, diplomacy may succeed where punishment has failed. But Trump's apocalyptic rhetoric will merely inflate North Korea's self-righteousness. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.