Autumn Statement poll: the public back Balls over Osborne

The first poll on the Autumn Statement shows that voters agree with Balls that Osborne is "in denial about the cost of living crisis".

George Osborne may have got the better of Ed Balls in the House yesterday (this morning's papers make grim reading for the latter), but it's the shadow chancellor who the public are siding with. A snap poll carried out last night by Ipsos MORI on the Autumn Statement shows that 40% agree with Balls that Osborne is "in denial about the cost of living crisis", compared to 24% who agree with Osborne that his "long-term plan for economic recovery is working" (10% don't know and 27% agree with neither). 

Given that it was Balls's "denial" line that prompted more jeers than any other from MPs, it's striking that voters take the opposite view. As his special adviser Alex Belardnelli noted last night, "On 6pm news millions will have seen pictures of Cameron & Osborne laughing heads off while @edballsmp points out living standards falling." 

By a slim majority, voters believe that the Autumn Statement will improve the economy (40-38) but worryingly for the Tories, 54% believe that it will harm public services, compared to just 21% who agree. Osborne and David Cameron have long argued that austerity has proved that the state can do "more with less" but they've yet to convince the public. 

The poll is also a reminder of how toxic the Tory brand remains. Despite measures such as the freeze in fuel duty, the introduction of universal free school meals for infant pupils, the £1,000 cut in business rates for small firms and the imposition of capital gains tax on foreign property owners (as opposed to tax cuts targeted at high-earners), the public are much more likely to believe that the Autumn Statement will benefit the rich than the poor.

Forty seven per cent believe that it was good for "rich people" (just 5% believe it was bad), while 44% believe that it was bad for the poor (14% believe it was good). Even worse for the Tories, 42% believe that the Autumn Statement was bad for "people like me". This shows that the Tories aren't just struggling to win support among "the poor" but also among the "squeezed middle". If they're to have any hope of beating Labour in May 2015, they will need these ratings to shift significantly over the next year. 

George Osborne and Ed Balls attend the State Opening of Parliament, in the House of Lords at the Palace of Westminster in London May 8, 2013. 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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