The Tories' EU poll bounce is over already - but it's no surprise

Tory MPs need to remember that just six per cent of voters name the EU as one of the most "important issues" facing Britain.

It looks the Tory poll bounce that followed David Cameron's EU referendum pledge was of the "dead cat" variety. The weekend polls showed Labour's lead had fallen to just six as the Conservatives' vote share rose to 35 per cent but by the middle of the week it was back at nine. Today's YouGov poll has the Labour lead at 12, back at the level seen before Cameron's speech. 

This will come as a surprise to some, but it shouldn't. As I noted on the day of Cameron's speech, while voters share the Tories' euroscepticism, they do not share their obsession with the subject. Polling by Ipsos MORI (see below) shows that just six per cent of voters regard the EU as one of the most "important issues" facing Britain. As Lord Ashcroft writes in a typically astute analysis on ConservativeHome, Cameron's pledge has "made Tories feel better about being Tories" but it has not "changed anybody's mind". 

How important is the EU to voters? Not very

This isn't to say that Cameron was wrong to make his pledge. It has undoubtedly won some votes back from Ukip and shored up eurosceptic Conservative support. Rather, it is to say that Tory MPs need to remember that the outcome of the next election will be determined by growth, jobs and public services - the issues that matter to most voters. So long as growth remains non-existent and wages remain below inflation, the Tories will struggle to advance. 

With Labour back in front, Ed Miliband is in a stronger position to argue that his decision not to match Cameron's referendum pledge was the right one. While the Tories bang on about Europe, he wants to bang on about growth. Morever, as Raf noted in a prescient post, Miliband doesn't want the early years of a Labour government to be dominated by an EU referendum.

Conventional wisdom suggested that Miliband's referendum stance would prove disastrous for Labour - and, once again, he was right to reject conventional wisdom. 

David Cameron delivers his speech on the UK's relationship with the EU at Bloomberg's headquarters in London. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

0800 7318496