Why are Labour ahead in the polls?

Before Mr Ed Miliband had been elected or had uttered a word as Leader Labour his party was ahead in the polls. Just five months after their mauling in the General Election, the public was giving them more than 40% support. How can this be?

I do not find it very surprising. For the last few months the main message coming out of the Coalition is the message of “deep cuts”. The long rambling spending review has allowed Labour politicians to get on the airwaves and excite concern about a long list of possible cuts. It has allowed all sorts of special interest groups free rein to parade the importance of their public spending and imply it is about be cut in clumsy ways. It has allowed Mr Balls to confidently predict a double dip recession based on the cuts he expects. It has damaged domestic confidence, and even led to a Monetary Policy Committee member demanding more money printing. Labour’s focus groups and polls show them they need to project some optimism and hope into the bleak economic and spending landscape. The government should do so before they lose the argument.

I do find it suprising that Conservatives leaders have allowed this to happen . I thought they understood that an image of a party that wants to cut well loved public services is not helpful. Nor is it a true reflection of past Conservatives in government. An image of a party which can cut out waste and less desirable public spending cannot be won by words. It can only be won by quietly and successfully doing just that. Five months into Coalition government, and public spending is more than 10% higher than a year ago, yet the government already has a reputation for cutting hard and cutting too much.

Coming out of past recessions Conservative government in 1981 and 1992 did cut the rate of growth in public spending and the plans for extra public spending as a necessary part of delivering a decent recovery. This time it was important to make it clear that the deficit is to be brought down more quickly than under Labour’s plans. That part of the strategy has worked, bringing interest rates on government borrowing down and seeing off a possible Greek or Irish style borrowing crisis. So far so good. Now we need to hear from Ministers that they can bring the deficit down whilst still increasing public spending every year. Their aim is better public service. They intend to achieve this with smaller increases in money. The previous government showed it was possible to shower the public services with extra money but get very little back for it. This government should be able to reform and improve public service with smaller extra sums.

They just make the task a whole lot harder if they allow the impression to gain hold that they are in it for the cuts. That will unite the Union hotheads with Labour to fight harder. It might even make firebrands of some moderates within the public services. We are all in this together. Temperate language about public spending which reflects the truth of how much money is available will serve them better than the harsh language of cuts.


  1. norman
    October 1, 2010

    For an allegedly mefia savvy leaderdhip you can hardly imagine a worse election campaign snd they're carrying that form on into government.

    They are making the England world cup performance look stellar. What on earth is going on at CCHQ? I blame the NHS madness. There is simply too little scope for manouevere when that still has sacred cow status.

    Too late to change now without making mattets worse. Dear oh dear what a mess.

    1. @LibDemKitty
      October 1, 2010

      I agree, I mean I can understand why Cameron had to promise to protect the NHS budget, but it seems unfair to exclude this from the cuts and put more of a burden on other departments as a result

  2. nonny mouse
    October 1, 2010

    We certainly do need to hear from ministers. There seems to have been a policy for ministers to refuse invitations to news programs like Newsnight.

    The government has been trying to conduct the spending review in secret, probably to stop spending departments from arguing their case to court of public opinion instead of to the treasury. Overall, this seems to have worked (with the notable exception of defense). Now we are about to see the final spending review so hopefully the government will do a much better job of communicating.

    On the subject of the polls, you are right to question how Labour have risen so far without a leader. However, another interesting fact is that the yougov polls actually fell after Ed Milibands speech to the Labour conference and they only got a very small bounce from both the conference and the new leader. This shows that Labour still have a long way to go before they can regain a reputation for economic management. Ed Balls on their team may make their troops happy, but the public are not buying it. This gives us hope that when ministers come out of hiding and start putting their case forward the polls might not be as bad as anticipated.

  3. Peter S
    October 1, 2010

    The perception that tyhe proposed cuts are not just about alleged waste and "undesirable public spending" owes nothing to the Labour Party it is all about "Events,dear boy,events". Massive cuts in personnel by WM Police is a fact not Labour scare mongering or propaganda, Met Police plans to train unpaid volunteers to become Police Officers is a fact. Intelligent members of the public, criminals included, extrapolate to 2015 and pose the question given the terrorist threats and growing serious and organised crime plus civil unrest prospects just what level of Police protection will we have under this new administration.Similarly they look at Defence and Armed Forces prospects and see open discord and pessism; is it any wonder that an electorate who feel insecure turn against the perceived perpetrators of that insecurity

  4. iain gill
    October 1, 2010

    lots of election promises are not happening, the immigration to the tens of thousands thing is now a vague end of term aspiration when it was presented at the election as something where action would be taken early

    its a symptom of a few things, one being too many senior politicians with no experience of life outside politics, and senior ministers being from a small section of society and not a broad as senior folk in many other walks of life

    and its far too easy to get away with minimal substance, lazy journalism allows this

    the british people deserve better

  5. ChrisM
    October 1, 2010

    The case for cuts is also being undermined in a big way by the BBC. They do not seem to grasp that it should be the Governments job to get value for our hard earned money, possibly because of the regressive tax that funds themselves.
    I wrote and complained about their website with its if we cut x then x number of schools / hospitals / etc. will not be built. No mention of getting better value for money by reducing the wasteful extra tier of quangos/ red tape or cutting a billion off the BBC budget to pay for the schools / hospitals.

    As you can imagine I did not get a satisfactory reply, so my point is that people hear how terrible it all is every time they turn on the telly or radio and the drip, drip of propaganda makes them think how awful that these wicked people are cutting our services, lets blame them, not the last government that caused it.

    1. Alan Jutson
      October 3, 2010


      Reports in the Sunday papers suggest 7% of the Licence Fee now goes to funding BBC Pensions. The management it would appear (reported) have just agreed to increase the Employer contribution element, to try and ward off a strike.

  6. david
    October 1, 2010

    I blame it on the Libdems yer know, how long are the Tories going to be, 'Shackled to a corpse' ?

    October 1, 2010

    You personally have been trying to promote the less draconian message but we agree that the leadership has allowed it to be distorted.

    Like the management of a loss-making company they correctly diagnose the ills and emphasise the size of the task. However what’s different here is that the government have taken 6 months to get down to business, and that’s after 3 years detailed planning on the likely remedies. Frankly this is just too damned slow and any half-decent strategist could foresee that impetus would be lost and opponents would re-group.

    We believe this is symptomatic of a youthful executive team and older cannier heads are required.

    Cutting waste and not services should still be the core message and the budget numbers support this.

  8. les
    October 1, 2010

    It's hardly surprising – labour has had blanket coverage since saturday and prior to that it was the libdems. so the Tories have been invisible – labour couldn't even get a poll boost from the conference let alone MiliE's speech – labour have crept up simply because they didn't have a leader as there has been nobody to focus on, now Miliband has been installed I think we shall see a difference in the polls.
    The Guardian poll shows labour at 37% n/c – the Tories are at 35% -2 – but the 2% did not go to labour.

    1. @LibDemKitty
      October 1, 2010

      It would be interesting to see which "other" party the 2% went to

  9. John Bailey
    October 1, 2010

    A: The Pollsters and Media are in the pocket of the Labour Regime.

    B: Large Portions of the electorate in England are indoctrinated (fools?) and deserve all they get (and get it they will).

    C: Both

  10. oldtimer
    October 1, 2010

    I put it down to bungling incompetence.

    As you have pointed out many times, government spending is not being cut – it is increasing as we write. The debt burden is not being cut – it is planned, yes planned, to go up every year of the life of this parliament.

    We are told that in politics the narrative is all. If that is true then the Coalition has lost control of the narrative.

  11. Lola
    October 1, 2010

    "Now we need to hear from Ministers that they can bring the deficit down whilst still increasing public spending every year" Eh? Why? Why not bring the deficit (and the national debt) down AND cut spending, whilst delivering better value.

    Freedom and markets deliver more for less every day. Why isn't the received wisdom that the State can't? It's ludirrous. My rule of thumb is that the State is at best 50% efficient and that it tries to do at least twice as mush as it needs to. A half of a half is a quarter, hence State spending could be reduced to about 1/4 of what it is now and everything would be just as good and probably even better done than it is now.

  12. StevenL
    October 1, 2010

    "Why are Labour ahead in the polls?" (JR)

    People probably think you're going to make their house price go down.

  13. Martha
    October 1, 2010

    Probably because you're all words and no action and all us unwashed masses flip our alligiance depending on the last lot of promises we hear in the desperate belief that someone might listen to us. You don't need to cut any front line services.
    Come out of the EU (saving a fortune in direct payments and would stimulate business setups once the OTT EU regulations were swept away)
    Bring our soldiers home (if you suspect the war will follow them home, employ them on our borders)
    Cut foreign aid ( We are not an empire any more and charity begins at home)
    Stop gold pensions for ALL public employees (if state pension is good enough for us it's good enough for them)
    Stop giving our money to charities, charities should survive on voluntary donations and we are never asked if we'd like to support them.
    Massively reduce taxation on tobacco, alcohol and build a couple of big supermarkets at Dover, it would stop smuggling ( releasing our customs to concentrate on real smuggling) in an instant, the Dover-Calais shoppers would reverse direction (creating employment in the South) and increase the treasury's take.
    I won't start on benefits, I'd be here all day, but doesn't the name National Insurance click with anyone, it's INSURANCE, you don't call Direct Line to make a claim if you aren't insured with them.

  14. billyb
    October 1, 2010

    Perhaps the coalition needs to explain that "the cuts" are only cuts in the rate of spending increase?

  15. JR T
    October 1, 2010

    Plus the Cons have not upheld the tough stance promised by Cast Iron Dave & Willy Hague on Europe but swallowed the lot.

    Same old Same old tosh!!

  16. Liz
    October 1, 2010

    Just watch the BBC main newses – one long catalogue of complaints and predictions about catastraophic consequences of the "cats" . Very few Conservatrive spokesmen/women – although ITN manages to get them. Today's 1pm news might just as well have been broadcast from the Guardian's editlorial office. The BBC health correspondent (NHS only) had a Labour spokesman but nobody else other than doctors with the usual dire predictions. ITN had David Cameron on, but BBC seems to avoid showing him if at all possible. The Labour Party has this very powerful ally yet the Conservatives seem not to see the danger let alone do anything to counter its propoganda – or even make it be more impartial. Not surprising then that Labour is ahead in the polls.

    1. Norman
      October 1, 2010

      Remember, Dave told us before the election that he is the Conservative leader who is closer to the BBC than any previous one and that he'd be a true and loyal friend to the corporation (I'm paraphrasing here).

      He is either extremely naive to think this would shift the BBC into unbiased coverage or he really couldn't give two whits for any right of centre policy and is glad to see the coverage that the BBC gives us 'nasty little Englanders'.

  17. StrongholdBarricades
    October 1, 2010

    Has central office been saving all it's powder for what comes after Brown?

    Realistically the Tories didn't think that they could haul down the Labour lead and get a majority, and it is probably just the way things fell that the Coalition occured

    Even had Labour won, it would have been interesting to see if he survived after the election with all those newly parachuted in ex-union people as MP's

  18. HampsteadOwl
    October 1, 2010

    I am surprised that you, and avowed Thatcherite, seem to be ignoring the lessons of the 1980s.

    For the whole of that decade there was a constant chorus from the left and the unions and the interest groups about Government "cuts", even while public spending continued to wind ever upwards on its merry way. Very often the Tories were so far behind in the polls you needed a telescope to see them.

    None of this stopped them being re-elected three times, and twice by a landslide. It seems that a hard-won reputation for economic competence,built on a record of reconstructing the economy from the rubble bequeathed by Labour, counted more with the public than any amount of soft-focus language about spending more on public services.

    This is what the Tories are trying to do again today, on this occasion with back-up from the Liberal Democrats. I agree with you that I would like to hear more from Osborne et al about the economic rewards that flow from getting the finances into balance, and reining back the growth of the State, but there is every reason to believe that if this Government gets the economy back to healthy, sustainable growth then the political rewards will follow. And I would expect those rewards to benefit more the Conservatives than the Liberals.

    I wonder about your motives in drawing attention to the planned growth in cash spending. Are you really just trying to do the Government's PR for it, arguing a line that more public spending is good, which is surely not what you believe in? Or is the sub-text here that the numbers show that Osborne isn't being nearly tough enough?

    Reply: I think the truth is more sensible than spin. I think the spending totals are generous in the circumstances.

      October 2, 2010

      Yes John, the spending totals ARE too generous.
      We still maintain that spending should have been frozen at 2009/10 levels irrespective of inflation. Not a penny more to be spent.
      Everybody would understand this simple rule and it would be easy to monitor and measure instead of needing an army of economists estimating and arguing inflation levels.
      Add that to a freeze on government recruitment, trimming of unnecessary tasks, sensible redeployment of funds between departments and creeping inflation and the books would gradually balance.
      Yes really they would without the current theatre of the streets running in blood!

  19. Derek Duncan
    October 1, 2010

    If the "Union hotheads" do call strikes as you suggest, Mr Ed Miliband will look feeble after his brave words in the Labour Conference.

  20. Independent
    October 1, 2010

    Did we not need the macho 'cuts' retoric to keep the IMF from sniffing around? 'Those British people – they know how to handle a deficit!' I agree now is the time to get the good news stuff out for 2011.

  21. Bill
    October 1, 2010

    Amazing that Labour can end its term, the way that all previous Labour governments do by running out of money and on the edge of a sterling crisis.

    Then they turn the cutbacks to their advantage and seem to be winning the PR war. Surprised that the coalition doesn’t seem to be projecting its case so badly.

  22. ChrisS
    October 1, 2010

    You say that public sector spending is set to increase this year and next. Yet the message coming from the Coalition is one of substantial cuts. No wonder everyone is confused! Why can`t the situation be clearly explained by the Government?

  23. Tim
    October 1, 2010

    I think it most likely that the Liberal Democrats have suffered (deservedly) a haemorrhage of support which has gone over to Labour.

    Mr King said that the winners of the election will be out of power for thirty years. I would opine that while that might be too strong a comment for the Conservative Party, it is too mild a comment for the Liberal Democrat turncoats.

  24. Graeme Kemp
    October 1, 2010

    Why are Labour ahead in the polls?

    Because people realise how nasty and senseless the Tory cuts will be! More lost jobs, lost homes, reduced growth….

    …………..and because Labour have a great new leader!

  25. P H
    October 1, 2010

    They should abolish Inheritance tax. This would not cost very much and in one step it would show for once a clear positive sense of direction.

    It would say resoundingly we are moving in the right direction, despite the mess left by labour. Up to a point the lower the rates the more tax you actually raise and real jobs you create.

    It would say resoundingly we welcome investment, wealth creation and personal wealth. Come here and invest in the future. It would say the future is bright not some socialist disaster zone.

    It would say we are not just "New Labour" with a new face.

    Oh well we can dream but at least they are getting rid of the mad M4 bus lane!

  26. P H
    October 1, 2010

    What happened to my post this morning. Is one not allowed to point out the madness of most Liberal policies?

    Reply: Any post which has contentious phrases in may get delayed as I need to think about it and edit it for the sake of the contributor.

  27. JimF
    October 1, 2010

    Why can't I now enquire about an employee's health insofar as it relates to their ability to do the job?
    Why can't I come to individual arrangements with employees about how their carer responsibilities are managed, without having to constantly look over my shoulder in case employee X's conditions are different, never mind more or less favourable than employee Y's?
    Why can't I contractually prevent employees whinging and becoming resentful about each other's salaries between themselves? We've all been in the situation where the young bright employee is paid as much as the 10-year experenced plodder/time server. It happens, but preventing time wasting discussion and resentment about this seems now to be outlawed.
    Why does an employer get taken to court because one employee is offended by another's attitude in the work place? Can't this be dealt with sensibly?
    Employers must have rights, too. It seems there is nobody prepared to support them now.

    1. P H
      October 2, 2010

      Spot on – who would want to employ anyone now?

  28. John C
    October 1, 2010

    "It has allowed Mr Balls to confidently predict a double dip recession based on the cuts he expects."

    I have faith in the coalition and their policies with regard to the deficit.

    Have faith Mr Redwood!

    Play the long game.

    I am fairly confident that these deficit reduction policies will work. I don't believe we will enter a double dip recession.

    In 12-18 months, a clever coalition government, (this is where I have my major doubts), will hammer Labour at every opportunity with "you said our policies would lead to a double dip recession. You were wrong. Just as wrong as you were when you got us into this mess".

    On the other issue.

    As a political punter I really do believe that the coalition government are losing the PR battle when it comes to cuts.

    As someone interested in politics, I understand the basics of what is going on (e.g. difference between deficit and debt).

    However, in my everyday experience, I am shocked at how ill informed the general public are. In my experience they do not know the difference between deficit and debt. Many are convinced that next year, there will be cuts of 25%+ in areas such as care homes, elderly people's day centres etc.

    The coalition government needs to get a grip on this and fight back. They seem to be letting myths develop which will still be around in 20 years.

    It has gone down in folk law that Thatcher slashed the budgets of the NHS. It is my understanding that, for every year that Thatcher was PM, the NHS budget INCREASED.

    I think the coalition government is allowing another myth to enter the general public's consciousness.

    Reply: I am certainly not forecasting a double dip

    1. John C
      October 2, 2010

      Mr Redwood.

      I know you are not forecasting a double dip!

      I've been reading your blog for well over a year now and know, and mostly agree with your analysis.

      I quoted your reference to Ed Balls where *HE* is predicting a double dip recession. When the time is right (18 months or so) you must hammer home at every opportunity that Labour's predication of a double dip recession was as flawed as their management of the economy which led to this mess.

  29. Give em 18 months
    October 1, 2010

    Most of my friends who deserted Labour at the last election have returned to the fold,their hopes of more freedom and choice dashed, a so called big society
    just another well spun myth. The taverns,the clubs,the lodges,the pubs,the inns
    continue to vanish under a welter of socialist dictats and the tories seemingly
    applaud. In fact it is now the tories who appear to be getting the blame for the demise of thousands of rural and suburban communities. Like the Irish
    politicians they cant see further than a pressure groups leaflet.

    Ex Solid Tory (48 years)

  30. Fox in sox
    October 1, 2010

    I wouldn't worry about the polls until an election is in the offing, it's important to get the grief out of the way early in the electoral cycle. Just hope that unlike the Irish we get some growth.

    There will be growth in spending, but I was at the leaving do of a staff nurse last week. She was made redundant after twenty years of unblemished service. She lives in a marginal constituency that went to the conservatives in May. I think she voted Conservative herself. I did also but in a different constituency.

    I think that some cuts are nessecary, but would prefer an across the board freeze in all benefits to making nurses and police redundant. You may well ask why the managers are cutting the front line, but please do not deny that they are making redundancies.

  31. Woodsy42
    October 2, 2010

    "giving them more than 40% support. How can this be?"

    Because the coalition have singularly failed to do the things they promised. The Conservatives having already thrown away support prior to the election with 'centrist' policies the coalition are now haemoraging the support of even more of them and of ordinary voters.
    A few issues;
    They keep threatening cuts and have have seriously whipped up everyone in the country to a frenzy of worry because we don't know what to expect.
    They have increased, not reduced, the EU takeover of the UK.
    They turned the statute repeal exercise into a PR disaster by editing the web system to try and control the outcome then making disparaging/dismissive remarks about issues they don't want to discuss like the smoking ban.
    They stopped funding speed cameras but made no definitive guidance so we now have a postcode lottery of speed controls.
    They stopped the school building scheme but have failed to fully explain their 'free-school' alternative so their policy is seen as a shambles by the average person.
    They have announced a complete makeover of NHS funding via GPs but with no consultation or electoral mandate, it too is seen as a risky muddle.
    Despite the cuts on what matters to people they have priortized spending on climate change, which is totally out of step with voter's priorities. Nobody is so stupid as to not know how much more expensive and unreliable windmills are, nobody can ignore how much the renewable levy already hits utility bills and how recently introduced carbon taxes will hit industry and jobs. Now is not the time, nor is this the way, to do this. But as the majority of voters think AGW is a scam anyhow this just makes them look even more pig headed and dumb.
    They want to give more power to people but have done nothing useful about deregulating or freeing local functions from rules, licenses and health and safety impositions (hint, just try organising a local event like a village fete).
    They are still introducing legislation that costs business. The anti discrimination bill may be good and free of unintended consequence (really?) but why now when every drop of earning power is needed?
    They still have no public policy about benefits, defense, tax levels, student grants etc – OK they are working on it, I get that. But why all the infighting, and what do you expect the average chap or chapess in the street to make of it while they wait and worry how much they will be hit for?
    Does that help answer your question?

  32. Robert George
    October 2, 2010

    John, Both you and the government should stop worrying about polls. There is not going to be an election any time soon so quit worryong about it or what the media thinks and get on with government.

    The only way to significantly improve the attitude of the press to the Tory party is to first, sack every single press liaison officer in any government department or Quango. Putting all 3000 of them on the street at once will send a huge wave of fear through the profession. Then announce an enquiry into the future of the BBC.

    This government needs to learn that the stick is more effective than the carrot. If you suck up to the media they will always-always turn on you sooner or later. Use my method and there will be many less of them to do so and they will be very afraid.

    1. HampsteadOwl
      October 2, 2010


      I think you are letting the new politics get to you. This is just too soft.

      Why stop at just sacking these 3,000 press officers? Let's find out where they live, go round there, ( and do something worse-ed)Only language these media-wallahs understand

    2. Norman
      October 2, 2010

      Next election is next May (Scottish & AV referendum). Not sure when the next by-election will be, or local government, or European but you can rest assured that the Conservatives want to do well in EVERY election, not just the General.

      Polls and focus groups are the life blood of most modern politicians (as always, present company excepted). I'd bet that the Cameroons are driven more by polls than by principle, as hideous a prospect as that may seem. I'd say 'How will this play in the polls?' is a more common question than 'How will this improve Britain?' around the Cabinet table.

  33. Tapestry
    October 2, 2010

    How come spending is 25% down a cross the board, apart from Health, Education and Overseas Aid, yet total spending is rising?

    Either Labour were lying about the true level of spending. Entirely possible.

    Or ….I can't see any other explanation.

  34. DaveK
    October 3, 2010


    Personally I think you should cut & paste or print 300 copies of Woodsy42's post and send it to your colleagues, who as far as I and all my friends are concerned come from some kind of alien political race divorced from us. There are a few isolated exceptions of course.


    ps Excellent showing on QT

  35. Timh1970
    October 3, 2010

    As a libertarian, cuts are the way forward.

    I just simply cannot comprehend why people think that having a large all powerful interfereing state is a good thing.

    A progressive state is one where the inividual holds the power and the state is subservient and not the other way around; as has been the case for longer than I care to remember.

  36. ChrisS
    October 11, 2010

    I think one of the major problems for the Coalition is that so many of the manifesto pledges of the Conservatives and LibDems are not being honoured. This leads to a lack of trust. Also, there is now talk of slowing down the spending cuts and phasing them over the term of the government. Exactly what Alistair Darling proposed!

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