Cameron's Europe bounce continues

New poll shows that Cameron's EU stance has significantly improved his leadership ratings.

David Cameron's run of good fortune shows no sign of ending. Today's YouGov poll confirms the Tories' two-point lead over Labour and reveals that Cameron's stance on the EU has significantly improved perceptions of his leadership. The percentage of people who agree that he "sticks to what he believes in" has risen by 13 points to 39 per cent, the number who view as "decisive" by nine points to 29 per cent, and the number who view him as "strong" by five points to 24 per cent. Since such metrics are often the best long-term predictor of the result of the next election, this is a worrying development for Labour and Ed Miliband. As I've noted before, while Labour led the Tories under Neil Kinnock, Kinnock was never rated above John Major as a potential prime minister.

Few voters know or understand what Cameron has done but, in politics, perception is everything. A series of front pages comparing him to Churchill and hailing his "bulldog spirt" were always likely to improve his ratings at the expense of Miliband's. A week ago, it was Cameron's leadership under pressure but, as yesterday's PMQs demonstrated, the roles have now reversed. Yesterday's defeat was all the more damaging for Miliband since it was the final PMQs of the year. He won't get a chance to avenge that loss and raise Labour MPs' morale until 11 January.

Fortunately for Miliband, today's Feltham by-election should be a shoo-in for Labour (the only poll conducted put Labour 22 points ahead of the Tories) but it will take more than that to reassure the gnawing doubts many have about his leadership.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Could Labour lose the Oldham by-election?

Sources warn defeat is not unthinkable but the party's ground campaign believe they will hold on. 

As shadow cabinet members argue in public over Labour's position on Syria and John McDonnell defends his Mao moment, it has been easy to forget that the party next week faces its first election test since Jeremy Corbyn became leader. On paper, Oldham West and Royton should be a straightforward win. Michael Meacher, whose death last month triggered the by-election, held the seat with a majority of 14,738 just seven months ago. The party opted for an early pre-Christmas poll, giving second-placed Ukip less time to gain momentum, and selected the respected Oldham council leader Jim McMahon as its candidate. 

But in recent weeks Labour sources have become ever more anxious. Shadow cabinet members returning from campaigning report that Corbyn has gone down "very badly" with voters, with his original comments on shoot-to-kill particularly toxic. Most MPs expect the party's majority to lie within the 1,000-2,000 range. But one insider told me that the party's majority would likely fall into the hundreds ("I'd be thrilled with 2,000") and warned that defeat was far from unthinkable. The fear is that low turnout and defections to Ukip could allow the Farageists to sneak a win. MPs are further troubled by the likelihood that the contest will take place on the same day as the Syria vote (Thursday), which will badly divide Labour. 

The party's ground campaign, however, "aren't in panic mode", I'm told, with data showing them on course to hold the seat with a sharply reduced majority. As Tim noted in his recent report from the seat, unlike Heywood and Middleton, where Ukip finished just 617 votes behind Labour in a 2014 by-election, Oldham has a significant Asian population (accounting for 26.5 per cent of the total), which is largely hostile to Ukip and likely to remain loyal to Labour. 

Expectations are now so low that a win alone will be celebrated. But expect Corbyn's opponents to point out that working class Ukip voters were among the groups the Labour leader was supposed to attract. They are likely to credit McMahon with the victory and argue that the party held the seat in spite of Corbyn, rather than because of him. Ukip have sought to turn the contest into a referendum on the Labour leader's patriotism but McMahon replied: "My grandfather served in the army, my father and my partner’s fathers were in the Territorial Army. I raised money to restore my local cenotaph. On 18 December I will be going with pride to London to collect my OBE from the Queen and bring it back to Oldham as a local boy done good. If they want to pick a fight on patriotism, bring it on."  "If we had any other candidate we'd have been in enormous trouble," one shadow minister concluded. 

Of Corbyn, who cancelled a visit to the seat today, one source said: "I don't think Jeremy himself spends any time thinking about it, he doesn't think that electoral outcomes at this stage touch him somehow."  

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.