Party like it’s April 2015! Labour lead in the polls. The party has taken a one-point lead with YouGov, with 34 per cent of the vote to the Conservatives on 33 per cent.
It’s not a trend, but it’s probably the start of one
“An important rule of polling: the first poll is happenstance, the second a coincidence, the third just noise. By the fourth, however, it may well be a trend.” I wrote that in October 2014, when it appeared that the Conservatives were edging into the lead in the polls, and it’s still true now. At present, ComRes has shown a slight shrinkage in the Conservative lead, ICM a dead heat, and now YouGov shows a narrow lead. It’s still perfectly possible that the next five set of polls will show the Conservative leads that have been the default setting since the general election, making all this redundant.
My instinct is it is a trend
For the past few weeks, the news has been dominated by tales of missed targets and Conservative in-fighting over Europe. That picture is even more acute if you follow politics not through print or websites like the New Statesman. As I’ve written before, elections are won and lost in the newsbreaks between songs on music radio, and for the past two months, you would have been forgiven for thinking that the British government consisted solely of a Chancellor who cannot balance the books and a Cabinet which cannot stand one another.
But not one which points to victory in 2020
The list of opposition leaders who have led in midterm and gone on to defeat is long – and you don’t have to cast your mind back far to recall an example. The historical trend is that for opposition parties, the only way is down.
However, George Osborne is going down…
According to YouGov, more voters thought that the budget was “unfair” than “fair”, by a ten-point margin. You have to go all the way back to 2012 and what was dubbed the “omnishambles” budget – when the government cut the 50p rate of tax and paid for it by increasing taxes on Greggs pastries – for the last time that voters thought the budget more unfair than fair. That budget knackered the government for more than a year and came close to ending the careers of David Cameron and George Osborne (and seeing as you can draw a direct line to the Prime MInister’s weakness following that budget and the decision to hold a referendum, it may yet end both their careers).
Coming in for particular public anger is the decision to cut the personal independence payment, which just 13 per cent of voters support, and 59 per cent of Tory voters believe are the wrong priority for Britain. That was very much the personal choice of Osborne, who wanted to find the revenue to raise the rate at which people start paying the higher rate of tax from just over £42,000 to £45,000, a measure that helps the top 15 per cent of earners. The personal independence payment goes on such fripperies as walking sticks, specially-adapted cars for disabled people, and care costs.
I wrote last week that Osborne is acquiring a reputation for being error-prone among Conservative MPs. And the thing about his latest gaffe, is, it’s the exact same as the gaffe that did so much damage to Tory fortunes back in 2012: he’s tried to redistribute from a group that people are largely sympathetic to the better-off. That won’t help him as he seeks to gain the support of MPs for his bid to replace Cameron as and when he stands down, and can only help Boris Johnson.
…and he may take Zac Goldsmith and Ruth Davidson with him
“We’re coming up on the budget,” reflected one senior member of Goldsmith’s team to me recently, “and last time [before Johnson was re-elected as Mayor of London] we had the omnishambles budget, and that hurt us. Obviously, the Chancellor has learnt since then, so we don’t expect a repeat”. But a repeat is exactly what they’ve got, and in Goldsmith, they have a candidate with a far smaller personal brand than Johnson. That can only be good news for Sadiq Khan, and, in Scotland, for Kezia Dugdale’s fight to avoid third-place against Ruth Davidson’s Conservatives.
Labour still want to win…
Much has been made of polls showing large majorities of Labour activists saying that they don’t regard winning the next election as a priority. But the excitement that this poll has produced shows that members of that party retain more than a passing desire for the party to take office again.
…and Britain’s membership of the European Union could be under threat.
Downing Street’s hope – and that of much of the Remain campaign, is that they will be able to repeat David Cameron’s “Old Spice” trick from the general election (“Look at me. Now look at Ed Miliband. Now back to me.”) but instead of contrasting the chaos of Britain under a Labour coalition of one type of another, the uncertain path of a vote to Leave the European Union against staying in. If the budget does do lasting harm to the government, the immediate consequence could be Brexit.