New poll shows Osborne harms the Tories and Balls helps Labour

Support for Tory economic policy falls when Osborne's name is mentioned and support for Labour policy rises when Balls is mentioned.

After the 2005 election, Lord Ashcroft famously published polling (Smell The Coffee) showing that voters often supported a particular policy until they were told that it had been proposed by the Tories (the psephological basis for "detoxification"). It seems that George Osborne now has a similarly toxic effect. A new poll by Ipsos MORI for the Evening Standard shows that voters back Osborne's deficit reduction plan - but only if the Chancellor's name isn't mentioned. 

Asked whether "tackling the deficit and keeping interest rates low should be our top priority" (the Osborne position) or whether "we need more government spending on investment to kick-start our economy and a temporary cut in taxes to support growth" (the Balls position), 52 per cent said the former and 41 per cent the latter. But when the policies are associated with their respective authors, the coalition's 11-point lead becomes a Labour lead of 16 points. Only 37 per cent say they support Osborne's approach, compared to 53 per cent who support Balls's. 

The poll will embolden those Conservative MPs who have long argued that Osborne is acting as a drag on Tory support and who are preparing to demand the removal of the Chancellor if the economy fails to improve. It's also evidence that, far from being a "toxic" figure (as Anthony Seldon claimed in the New Statesman last month), the shadow chancellor is an asset to his party.

Chancellor George Osborne is pictured at the EU headquarters in Brussels. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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