Insights from the UK and beyond
For the first time since January 2008, they are level pegging with the Conservatives in terms of popular support; for the first time since May’s general election, more people are dissatisfied with the government than are pleased with it, and – perhaps most heartening of all for the opposition – three-quarters of the public would rather see slower public spending cuts than swift ones. And all that without Labour even having a leader.
Of course, it’s early days for the coalition – and no one would expect a government that’s spent almost every day since it was formed talking about cuts, austerity and tough times to be wildly popular. Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron and his Liberal Democrat deputy Nick Clegg can certainly take solace, for example, from the data showing their personal approval ratings remain high. (Although interestingly – and highly unusually – Clegg remains more popular with Conservative voters than with his own party).
Professor Philip Cowley, a political scientist who is writing the definitive guide to the general election and who will be speaking at our debate on the spending review on Friday, argues government is unlikely to be too troubled by the findings. “Rather than leading to the downfall of the coalition, polls like this make its survival more likely, because they give neither partner any incentive to split away,” he told me, pointing out several historical examples – including after the May 1979 election – when Labour pulled ahead of the Conservatives following a national vote.