The good news for the coalition and the bad news

Peter KellnerPresident
May 16, 2011, 5:03 AM GMT+0

Our latest poll for the Sunday Times paints a mixed picture for the Coalition following last week’s spending review – reasons for comfort, but also reasons for concern.

First, the good news:

  • The Conservatives, on 41%, remain four points above their general election share.
  • More people still think David Cameron is doing well (49%) than badly (41%) as Prime Minister, and that the Coalition partners are working together well (53%) rather than badly (39%).
  • Labour is still blamed far more than the Conservatives for the spending cuts.
  • Ed Miliband’s rating is down on a week earlier. He still has a rating of plus nine (35% think he is doing well, while 26% say he is doing badly), but this compares with a rating of plus 18 a week earlier.
  • Big majorities support the decision to protect the NHS and the schools budget from the cuts faced by other departments.

Now the bad news:

  • The response to the spending review is noticeably less favourable than the response to the emergency budget in June. Compared with four months ago, the proportion approving of the Government’s record is down nine points to 39%, while the proportion disapproving is up 19 points to 46%.
  • The Liberal Democrats are suffering. Their support has now more than halved since the general election, from 24% to just 10%. Nick Clegg’s personal rating is now negative.
  • 51% think the spending measures are unfair; only 36% say they are fair. After the Budget, more people considered it fair (49%) than unfair (36%).
  • Further evidence that the Coalition is losing the fairness battle come from the finding that 48% think people on low incomes and the unemployed will ‘bear the biggest burden of the cuts’.

Overall, the contest between Coalition and opposition looks finely balanced. The voting intention figures bear this out: a continuing, but very narrow, Conservative lead. At 40%, Labour stands ten points higher than on election day in May, but has yet to achieve the large polling lead that it must hope for when times are tough.

The main reason for this is that Labour continues to attract much of the blame for Britain’s plight. Unless and until it transfers blame to the Government, and also persuades enough voters that it has a more effective and less painful strategy for restoring Britain’s economy and public finances to health, Labour will fail to make the sustained breakthrough it needs.