The Lib Dems' poll woes continue

Why weak poll ratings will strengthen Clegg's hand ahead of the Budget.

Nick Clegg may have enjoyed a more favourable press recently but the Sunday polls make grim reading for the Lib Dem leader. A ComRes poll puts Clegg's party on 10 per cent, while the latest YouGov poll has them on just seven per cent (their joint lowest rating since the general election), with Ukip snapping at their heels on six per cent. If repeated on a uniform swing at the election, the YouGov figues would reduce the Lib Dems to a rump of nine seats. The much-touted "differentiation strategy" has yet to bear fruit.

Ahead of the Budget, however, low poll ratings are something of a blessing for Clegg. The weaker the Lib Dems' poll ratings, the stronger his negotiating hand. As James Forsyth reports in today's Mail on Sunday, the Tories are fearful that the Lib Dems could exit the coalition as early as the start of 2014 (a possibility increased by poor poll ratings) and are determined to keep them on board. In this case, that means giving Clegg at least some of what he wants in the Budget.

The Lib Dem leader is still pushing for an accelerated increase in the personal allowance (with the added support of Ed Balls) funded by a £16bn package of tax rises on the wealthy. On Monday night, David Laws, the Tories' favourite Lib Dem (and the only Lib Dem backbencher not to have rebelled in this parliament), will return to the fray, giving a major interview to Newsnight and supporting Clegg's demands, including the introduction of a "mansion tax" on properties worth more than £2m.

At present, it seems likely that Osborne will offer an accelerated increase in the personal allowance, which is due to rise from £7,475 to £8,105 this April, without making the full leap to £10,000. This will be funded by clamping down on tax avoidance (Osborne could introduce a "general anti-avoidance rule", a law that would require corporations to receive clearance from HM Revenue and Customs on their tax plans before implementing them) and by closing various loopholes, rather than a mansion tax. The Lib Dems have yet to convince their coalition partners of the merits of taxing wealth more heavily and income more lightly.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

David Cameron attends a press conference with Portuguese Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho earlier today. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Cameron rules out military action in Syria without Labour support

A downside of Corbyn for the Conservatives.  

Many have written that Jeremy Corbyn's likely election as Labour leader will give the Conservatives free rein to pursue their desired politics. But with a majority of just 12, their room for manoeuvre is more limited than suggested. In an Evening Standard column in July, I noted that Corbyn's success could deny David Cameron the Commons majority he needs to extend military action against Isis to Syria. 

Speaking in Spain today, where he is discussing his EU renegotation, Cameron said that he would "only pursue going further on this issue if there is genuine consensus in the UK". That is a signal that military intervention would require bipartisan support. The Prime Minister is still stung by his defeat over the issue in 2013 - the first time a government had lost a vote on a matter of peace and war since 1782. Having previously opposed the extension of air strikes from Iraq to Syria, Harriet Harman said in July that Labour would look "very, very seriously" at any proposals to "tackle the growing horror of Isil".

But Corbyn, to put it mildly, does not share this view. Asked during last night's Sky News hustings by Liz Kendall whether there were any circumstances in which he would approve the use of armed force, he said: "Any? I am sure there are some. But I can’t think of them at the moment." He went to argue that interventions required UN backing to be legitimate: "We should have stuck with the UN and given far more support to the UN," he said in reference to the Nato action in Kosovo. "Surely we want to live in a world that is based on the rule of international law. the UN is quintessentially part of international law." 

As well as the potential that a Corbyn leadership has to shift the terms of debate leftwards, forcing the Tories to adopt a more centrist position, this is another reason why not all Conservatives relish the prospect of his victory. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.