The Coalition spinners have done a great job, presumably with some help from within the Labour party. They have made the issue of the Labour conference the question of Ed’s leadership and his own personal poll ratings.
They would be wise in the privacy of their own politcal meetings to recognise an inconvenient truth for them in the polls. Labour is around 4-6 points ahead of the Conservatives, and the Lib Dems are way down. The latest average polls show Labour on 40%, Conservatives on 36% and Lib Dems on 11%. The Coalition parties combined have come down from 59% at the General Election to 47% today. Even today’s poll showing the Conservatives one point ahead, show the Coalition down 10% from 2010.
Incidentally, to all those bloggers forecasting a UKIP breakthrough, their poll rating remains at 4% which would guarantee no seats next time round, just like 2010. The strongest UKIP support is amongst southern males post retirement. The party seems to have little attraction for other voters.
The main change since 2010 is not a UKIP surge, but a big switch from Lib Dem to Labour, probably influenced heavily by their change of stance on tuition fees. The Conservative poll rating has remained unchanged from May 2010.
The Labour poll ratings are remarkable, given the state of the economy and the debts Labour passed on to its successors. The issue polls show the Coalition has won the arguments on the need to curb spending to control the deficit, boosting the Coalition’s rating for economic competence . However, what matters is how people vote. Voters often hold apparently contradictory views when you read a wide ranging poll. There are still plenty of interest groups out there wanting to defend every last penny of public spending, whatever the consequences for the national economy, and however ineffectual or ill judged. Labour’s strength has increased probably because it opposed the tuition fees and is saying cut less quickly than the Tories, and that attracts Lib dem left wing voters. It will put off Tory floaters, and get in the way of Labour driving to the “centre ground”.
Mr Balls was wise to apologise for several items in Labour’s record. I presume Mr Miliband will do the same. Labour is also wise to see that they need to shift from saying all spending is a good idea, to saying that what matters is effective spending in the areas where people value a public sector presence. Whilst the message of cutting less and not liking high tuition fees has made some easy gains from disaffecetd Lib Dems, there is an undercurrent of understanding amongst the public that several countries around the world are in a huge mess because they borrowed too much. Many people see that there are limits to how much the UK can spend and borrow to avoid a worse tragedy. Labour understand this, and are saying they will mnot pledge to reverse any of the Coalition specific cuts.
I have been impressed by the tough questioning of some BBC journalists to Labour spokes people, pressing them hard on why they spent and borrowed so much in government and whether this made the crisis worse. I have yet to hear, however, a BBC journalist ask a Labour representative why their policy throughout the last thirteen years was to join the Euro in principle, and why they still cannot come out and accept that was a mistake. The UK would be a safer place for the future if the two main parties could at last agree that the Euro would be a very bad idea for Britain. That would leave the Lib Dems free to represent the small unrepetant minority who still want to abolish the pound.