Labour set for easy win in Feltham byelection

Poll puts Labour 22 points ahead but there is bad news for Ken.

Ed Miliband's unbroken run of byelection victories (there have been four to date) looks set to continue. A poll by Michael Ashcroft for ConservativeHome puts Labour 22 points ahead of the second-placed Tories in Feltham and Heston with a 52 per cent share of the vote. This represents a six-point swing from the Tories to Labour since the general election, solid but nothing spectacular. As Ashcroft notes, in a by-election - "an easy opportunity for a cost-free anti-government protest vote" - Labour might have been expecting to do better.

More worryingly for Labour, the poll shows that Ken is still struggling against Boris. Even in what is a safe Labour seat, Boris, who is backed by 25 per cent of Labour voters and 33 per cent of Lib Dems, is a point ahead of Ken. This represents a significant drop in support for Livingstone, who outperformed Labour in 2000 (by seven points), 2004 (by eight points) and 2008 (by three points). The "Ken bonus" has turned into a "Ken deficit" of eight points. Until he wins over Boris's Labour supporters, there is little hope of him retaking City Hall.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.