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Here's why the Conservatives are banging on and on about the SNP

A new poll confirms what the Conservatives been saying privately, and bodes ill for Labour after the election.

A while back, I reported on private Conservative polling that showed that the fear of an SNP-Labour pact was putting the frighteners up swing voters in the marginals. The strategy also figures into the Liberal campaign message, such as it is.

Now ComRes have helpfully polled publicly what the Tories and the Liberal Democrats have been testing privately. A new poll for ITV on possible coalition partners finds that just 19 per cent of voters want the SNP to play a role in the next Westminster government, with 59 per cent opposed.

Happily for Labour, opposition to the SNP in government is significantly lower in London and Wales, where the party is hoping it will outperform the national swing, picking up seats like Ilford North, the Vale of Glamorgan, Battersea and Aberconwy to bolster its hopes of being the largest party, but it is still high, at 48% in Wales and 49% in London. But what will trouble Labour MPs and strategists is the level of opposition to any SNP presence in government in the East of England, the Midlands and the North West, in the areas where the election will be decided.

That said, while this poll confirms that the Tory campaign is based on more than wishful thinking – and Labour candidates in the marginals also report that voters are concerned about a Labour-SNP pact in the Commons – I’m still dubious about its utility as a campaign tactic. One Labour insider points out that many of the concerns about Ed Miliband palling up with Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond “are actually about Ed’s ratings and his ability to take tough decisions”. If Miliband is able to continue the positive air war he has enjoyed so far then the matter simply won’t arise. And if voters’ first preference is to have a Labour government free of SNP influence, their best bet in the Labour-Tory battles in England and Wales is still a vote for Labour, rather than the Conservatives.

But what should really trouble Labour isn’t if the Tory attack does damage in the campaign’s last 16 days, but what will happen to Labour’s vote in the Midlands and the North if the party, as now looks more likely than not, ends up in office thanks to the support of the Scottish Nationalists.

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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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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