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.

Photo: Getty
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The big problem for the NHS? Local government cuts

Even a U-Turn on planned cuts to the service itself will still leave the NHS under heavy pressure. 

38Degrees has uncovered a series of grisly plans for the NHS over the coming years. Among the highlights: severe cuts to frontline services at the Midland Metropolitan Hospital, including but limited to the closure of its Accident and Emergency department. Elsewhere, one of three hospitals in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland are to be shuttered, while there will be cuts to acute services in Suffolk and North East Essex.

These cuts come despite an additional £8bn annual cash injection into the NHS, characterised as the bare minimum needed by Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England.

The cuts are outlined in draft sustainability and transformation plans (STP) that will be approved in October before kicking off a period of wider consultation.

The problem for the NHS is twofold: although its funding remains ringfenced, healthcare inflation means that in reality, the health service requires above-inflation increases to stand still. But the second, bigger problem aren’t cuts to the NHS but to the rest of government spending, particularly local government cuts.

That has seen more pressure on hospital beds as outpatients who require further non-emergency care have nowhere to go, increasing lifestyle problems as cash-strapped councils either close or increase prices at subsidised local authority gyms, build on green space to make the best out of Britain’s booming property market, and cut other corners to manage the growing backlog of devolved cuts.

All of which means even a bigger supply of cash for the NHS than the £8bn promised at the last election – even the bonanza pledged by Vote Leave in the referendum, in fact – will still find itself disappearing down the cracks left by cuts elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.