Labour wins a conference poll bounce as its lead rises from five points to nine

Around half of the survey took place before Miliband's speech but Labour is already seeing the benefits from its time in Brighton.

Party conferences are among the few political events that can have a direct effect on the polls (most voters usually aren't paying attention) and it looks like Labour has alread benefited from its time in Brighton. 

The latest YouGov poll shows that the party's lead has risen from five points to nine, with Labour up two to 41%, the Tories down two to 32%, UKIP unchanged on 11% and the Lib Dems down two to 8%. Significantly, nearly half of the fieldwork took place before Ed Miliband's speech and its accompanying pledge to freeze energy prices until 2017, suggesting that the party could enjoy a further bounce in today's survey.

Another poll by YouGov found that voters view energy prices as the greatest threat to the economy, ranking them ahead of unemployment, benefit levels, inflation, interest rates and income taxes. A report due to be published by the pollster next week, entitled Utilities - Tariffs and Loyalty, found that 83% of UK customers believe that "energy suppliers maximise profits at the expense of customers", with only 2% disagreeing. In addition, 56% agree that "energy companies treat people with contempt", with only 7% disagreeing. 

There's also some good news for Miliband. The number viewing him as the best potential prime minister has risen from 21% at the start of September to 26%, although Cameron retains a commanding lead of nine points. 

It's common for poll ratings to fluctuate more than the usual during the conference season and the real test will be whether Labour can maintain its lead into next week. If the Conservative conference ends with Miliband's party ahead, some Tories will begin to worry that the Labour leader's "populism" is proving, well, popular. 

Ed Miliband speaks during a question and answer session yesterday at the Labour conference in Brighton. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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George Osborne's mistakes are coming back to haunt him

George Osborne's next budget may be a zombie one, warns Chris Leslie.

Spending Reviews are supposed to set a strategic, stable course for at least a three year period. But just three months since the Chancellor claimed he no longer needed to cut as far or as fast this Parliament, his over-optimistic reliance on bullish forecasts looks misplaced.

There is a real risk that the Budget on March 16 will be a ‘zombie’ Budget, with the spectre of cuts everyone thought had been avoided rearing their ugly head again, unwelcome for both the public and for the Chancellor’s own ambitions.

In November George Osborne relied heavily on a surprise £27billion windfall from statistical reclassifications and forecasting optimism to bury expected police cuts and politically disastrous cuts to tax credits. We were assured these issues had been laid to rest.

But the Chancellor’s swagger may have been premature. Those higher income tax receipts he was banking on? It turns out wage growth may not be so buoyant, according to last week’s Bank of England Inflation Report. The Institute for Fiscal Studies suggest the outlook for earnings growth will be revised down taking £5billion from revenues.

Improved capital gains tax receipts? Falling equity markets and sluggish housing sales may depress CGT and stamp duties. And the oil price shock could hit revenues from North Sea production.

Back in November, the OBR revised up revenues by an astonishing £50billion+ over this Parliament. This now looks a little over-optimistic.

But never let it be said that George Osborne misses an opportunity to scramble out of political danger. He immediately cashed in those higher projected receipts, but in doing so he’s landed himself with very little wriggle room for the forthcoming Budget.

Borrowing is just not falling as fast as forecast. The £78billion deficit should have been cut by £20billion by now but it’s down by just £11billion. So what? Well this is a Chancellor who has given a cast iron guarantee to deliver a surplus by 2019-20. So he cannot afford to turn a blind eye.

All this points towards a Chancellor forced to revisit cuts he thought he wouldn’t need to make. A zombie Budget where unpopular reductions to public services are still very much alive, even though they were supposed to be history. More aggressive cuts, stealthy tax rises, pension changes designed to benefit the Treasury more than the public – all of these are on the cards. 

Is this the Chancellor’s misfortune or was he chancing his luck? As the IFS pointed out at the time, there was only really a 50/50 chance these revenue windfalls were built on solid ground. With growth and productivity still lagging, gloomier market expectations, exports sluggish and both construction and manufacturing barely contributing to additional expansion, it looks as though the Chancellor was just too optimistic, or perhaps too desperate for a short-term political solution. It wouldn’t be the first time that George Osborne has prioritised his own political interests.

There’s no short cut here. Productivity-enhancing public services and infrastructure could and should have been front and centre in that Spending Review. Rebalancing the economy should also have been a feature of new policy in that Autumn Statement, but instead the Chancellor banked on forecast revisions and growth too reliant on the service sector alone. Infrastructure decisions are delayed for short-term politicking. Uncertainty about our EU membership holds back business investment. And while we ought to have a consensus about eradicating the deficit, the excessive rigidity of the Chancellor’s fiscal charter bears down on much-needed capital investment.

So for those who thought that extreme cuts to services, a harsh approach to in-work benefits or punitive tax rises might be a thing of the past, beware the Chancellor whose hubris may force him to revive them after all. 

Chris Leslie is chair of Labour's backbench Treasury committee.