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
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The big problem for the NHS? Local government cuts

Even a U-Turn on planned cuts to the service itself will still leave the NHS under heavy pressure. 

38Degrees has uncovered a series of grisly plans for the NHS over the coming years. Among the highlights: severe cuts to frontline services at the Midland Metropolitan Hospital, including but limited to the closure of its Accident and Emergency department. Elsewhere, one of three hospitals in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland are to be shuttered, while there will be cuts to acute services in Suffolk and North East Essex.

These cuts come despite an additional £8bn annual cash injection into the NHS, characterised as the bare minimum needed by Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England.

The cuts are outlined in draft sustainability and transformation plans (STP) that will be approved in October before kicking off a period of wider consultation.

The problem for the NHS is twofold: although its funding remains ringfenced, healthcare inflation means that in reality, the health service requires above-inflation increases to stand still. But the second, bigger problem aren’t cuts to the NHS but to the rest of government spending, particularly local government cuts.

That has seen more pressure on hospital beds as outpatients who require further non-emergency care have nowhere to go, increasing lifestyle problems as cash-strapped councils either close or increase prices at subsidised local authority gyms, build on green space to make the best out of Britain’s booming property market, and cut other corners to manage the growing backlog of devolved cuts.

All of which means even a bigger supply of cash for the NHS than the £8bn promised at the last election – even the bonanza pledged by Vote Leave in the referendum, in fact – will still find itself disappearing down the cracks left by cuts elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.