David Cameron with Ed Miliband before the state opening of Parliament in 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.
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The Tories cut Labour's poll lead to one point

Osborne's populist Budget helps the Conservatives claw back voters from UKIP.

With its laser focus on pensioners (the most likely age group to vote), George Osborne's fifth Budget was his shrewdest to date - and the Tories have been duly rewarded in the polls. Two surveys published tonight - Survation for the Mail on Sunday and YouGov for the Sunday Times - put Labour's lead at just one point.

As intended, the measures announced by Osborne have helped to draw the over-65s away from UKIP and back to the Tories. Survation puts the Conservatives up four points to 34 per cent, with the Farageists down three points to 15 per cent. Labour support has actually risen by one point to 35 per cent, showing that the Tories have benefited by clawing back voters from UKIP and winning over the previously undecided. YouGov does show a fall in the Labour vote, from 39 per cent to 37 per cent, but again it's UKIP that has suffered most, with its support down from 15 per cent to 11 per cent.

The polls are the best for the Tories since an ICM survey last summer put them level with Labour on 36 per cent (the last time they led in a poll was March 2012, just before the omnishambles Budget) and will inevitably lead many to conclude that the Conservatives are on course for victory in 2015. This might well be the case (the political and economic cycles look increasingly well aligned for Osborne) but it's wise to treat the numbers with caution for now.

It's not unheard of for the governing party to enjoy a bounce from the Budget (although it is rarer than most think), especially if it is well received by the media, which fades as normal business is resumed. David Cameron's "veto" of the EU fiscal treaty in December 2011, which saw the Tories briefly regain their lead over Labour, is a good example of how one-off events can skew voting intentions. 

Even so, since we are still 14 months away from the general election, with some voters unlikely to return to the Conservative fold until the last moment (there is little prospect of UKIP polling 15 per cent in 2015), the Tories have cause to be hopeful of victory tonight.

The consolation for Labour is that as long as it retains the support of around a quarter of 2010 Lib Dem supporters (which is not guaranteed), its vote share will remain high enough for it to run the Tories close.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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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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