Ed Miliband delivers a speech at the Policy Network conference held in the Science Museum on July 3, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Why Labour is cheered by its continuing poll lead

Despite the media assault on Miliband and the strengthening economic recovery, the party is seven points ahead. 

For Labour, as for Germany, seven is the lucky number. That is the margin by which the party has led the Conservatives in a succession of polls this week (YouGov, Populus, Lord Ashcroft and Opinium). The numbers could soon shift in the Tories' favour, but Labour strategists are cheered by their continuing advantage. They note that their lead has held up (and in fact increased) despite the media assault against Ed Miliband and a strengthening economic recovery. One told me: "We can lead, and lead healthily, after six weeks of buckets of shit being poured over Ed". 

Ten months out from the general election, there is more than enough time for the Tories to supplant Labour, but some Conservative MPs increasingly doubt their ability to do so. Those who study the polls most closely suggest that their colleagues are too preoccupied with the air war, and the Tories' superior media profile, to notice Labour's arithmetical advantage. One recently told me: "I'm a numbers man, I look at the data and ask 'how we are going to hold, say, Lincoln?'" He feared that the Lib Dem collapse in Labour-Tory marginals meant a succession of Conservative marginals would fall into the opposition's lap. 

Tory optimists note that the party enjoys a robust lead on "the fundamentals" of the economy and leadership. But the pessimists question why, if that is the case, they aren't ahead already. The danger for the Tories is that their enduring brand weakness means the ceiling on their vote is simply too low to beat Labour 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

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.

0800 7318496