by Atul Hatwal
The terms of the debate are shifting within the Labour party. Since the underwhelming local elections, the question is no longer whether the poll lead is soft but why. Just this morning, one of Ed Miliband’s more doughty supporters in the media, Mary Riddell, penned her most pessimistic piece to date on Labour’s position.
This change has been partially obscured by the recent writhing of the Tory right over Europe and gay marriage but as the spending review approaches, it will come into sharp focus.
As ever, the answer to the question is to be found in voters’ views on the economy and specifically spending.
Labour’s case against the government has been clear: excessive Tory cuts killed off the flickering recovery of 2010 with the deficit rising as growth flatlines.
It is hard to disagree with the economics. But there’s a political problem.
More and more of the public back the cuts.
YouGov have asked a detailed series of questions on deficit reduction over the past three years and the shift in responses shines a light on why Labour’s poll lead isn’t so much soft as aqueous.
The public’s support for action on the deficit has been constant: at the start of March 2011, 57% felt that “the way the government is cutting spending” was necessary versus 32% who thought it unnecessary. Last week the figures were 57% and 29%, virtually no change over the past two years.
This should have been a warning that something wasn’t quite right with the poll lead: how could the public support Labour while also agreeing with the government’s approach to cuts.
But the YouGov surveys also had seemingly contradictory responses. The key question is on whether the public believe the depth of the cuts to be “too shallow,” “about right,” or “too deep.” The answers to this question initially suggested a consensus that the cuts were too deep. But that is changing.
Since April 2012 when 13% more felt the cuts to be “too deep” than either “about right” or “too shallow”, the position has shifted radically. This week, the poll had the pro-cuts camp 2% ahead.