Labour lead just five points in new poll

Latest ComRes poll shows slim lead for Labour as the Tories increase their lead on the economy to nine points.

The latest ComRes/Independent on Sunday poll is a disappointing one for Labour. It puts the party's lead at just five points, unchanged since last month's survey, which showed a bounce for the Tories following David Cameron's promise of an EU referendum. Labour is on 36 per cent (-1), with the Tories on 31 per cent (-1), UKIP on 14 per cent (+1) and the Lib Dems on eight per cent (-3).

David Cameron and George Osborne have also increased their lead on the economy from one point to nine points. Twenty seven per cent of people say they trust Cameron and Osborne "to make the right decisions about the economy" and fifty one per cent say they do not, compared to 20 per cent who say they trust Ed Miliband and Ed Balls and 55 per cent who say they do not.

Midway through the parliament and with economic growth non-existent, one would expect Labour to be performing better. Governments tend to gain support in the run-up to a general election (as Gordon Brown's did), so the party needs a much greater cushion than five points.

This is, of course, just one poll; an ICM/Guardian survey earlier this week put the party's lead at 12 points and the most recent YouGov poll put it at 11. But the ComRes survey is a good example of why most shadow ministers privately think another hung parliament is the most likely outcome of the next election.

Ed Miliband and Ed Balls trail David Cameron and George Osborne on the economy by nine points. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.