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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 British politics.

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Leader: Trump and an age of disorder

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions.

The US presidency has not always been held by men of distinction and honour, but Donald Trump is by some distance its least qualified occupant. The leader of the world’s sole superpower has no record of political or military service and is ignorant of foreign affairs. Throughout his campaign, he repeatedly showed himself to be a racist, a misogynist, a braggart and a narcissist.

The naive hope that Mr Trump’s victory would herald a great moderation was dispelled by his conduct during the transition. He compared his country’s intelligence services to those of Nazi Germany and repeatedly denied Russian interference in the election. He derided Nato as “obsolete” and predicted the demise of the European Union. He reaffirmed his commitment to dismantling Obamacare and to overturning Roe v Wade. He doled out jobs to white nationalists, protectionists and family members. He denounced US citizens for demonstrating against him. Asked whether he regretted any part of his vulgar campaign, he replied: “No, I won.”

Of all his predilections, Mr Trump’s affection for Vladimir Putin is perhaps the most troubling. When the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, warned that Russia was the “number one geopolitical foe” of the US, he was mocked by Barack Obama. Yet his remark proved prescient. Rather than regarding Mr Putin as a foe, however, Mr Trump fetes him as a friend. The Russian president aims to use the US president’s goodwill to secure the removal of American sanctions, recognition of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and respect for the murderous reign of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. He has a worryingly high chance of success.

Whether or not Mr Trump has personal motives for his fealty (as a lurid security dossier alleges), he and Mr Putin share a political outlook. Both men desire a world in which “strongmen” are free to abuse their citizens’ human rights without fear of external rebuke. Mr Trump’s refusal to commit to Nato’s principle of collective defence provides Mr Putin with every incentive to pursue his expansionist desires. The historic achievement of peace and stability in eastern Europe is in danger.

As he seeks reconciliation with Russia, Mr Trump is simultaneously pursuing conflict with China. He broke with precedent by speaking on the telephone with the Taiwanese president, Tsai Ing-wen, and used Twitter to berate the Chinese government. Rex Tillerson, Mr Trump’s secretary of state nominee, has threatened an American blockade of the South China Sea islands.

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions. The US constitution, with its separation of powers, was designed to restrain autocrats such as the new president. Yet, in addition to the White House, the Republicans also control Congress and two-thirds of governorships and state houses. Mr Trump’s first Supreme Court appointment will ensure a conservative judicial majority. The decline of established print titles and the growth of “fake news” weaken another source of accountability.

In these circumstances, there is a heightened responsibility on the US’s allies to challenge, rather than to indulge, Mr Trump. Angela Merkel’s warning that co-operation was conditional on his respect for liberal and democratic values was a model of the former. Michael Gove’s obsequious interview with Mr Trump was a dismal example of the latter.

Theresa May has rightly rebuked the president for his treatment of women and has toughened Britain’s stance against Russian revanchism. Yet, although the UK must maintain working relations with the US, she should not allow the prospect of a future trade deal to skew her attitude towards Mr Trump. Any agreement is years away and the president’s protectionist proclivities could yet thwart British hopes of a beneficial outcome.

The diplomatic and political conventions embodied by the “special relationship” have endured for more than seven decades. However, Mr Trump’s election may necessitate their demise. It was the belief that the UK must stand “shoulder to shoulder” with the US that led Tony Blair into the ruinous Iraq War. In this new age of disorder, Western leaders must avoid being willing accomplices to Mr Trump’s agenda. Intense scepticism, rather than sycophancy, should define their response.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era