The two most recent polls, one showing Labour with a 5-point lead and then a second two days later indicating a 7 -point lead for Labour, may just possibly suggest that the electorate is finally getting its mind around what the Tories plan to do over the next 5 years if they win, and they don’t like what they see. They keep on being told by the Tories that the cuts are more than half over, which they plainly are not, and they had previously put up with austerity on the grounds that by 2015 nothing much more would need to be done, and anyway cuts were for shirkers and scroungers, not hard-working people like themselves. It is now beginning to dawn on them that all these sweet billets-doux cooed at them by Cameron and Osborne are just so much moonshine. The £30bn further cuts (at least) in the next Parliament are going to hit them hard – tax credits cutbacks, huge benefit cuts focused 80% on women, further large squeezes on local authority budgets leading to big job cuts, etc. – and understandably they don’t think that’s fair. In fact they’re seething.
It is just possible that the Autumn Statement/mini-budget on 3 December will signal the point at which sentiment begins to shift away from the Tories. I believe that that was the point at which an over-confident Osborne badly over-reached himself. He was so sure that an uncompromising rigidity over imposing huge further public spending and benefit cuts and even trying to thrust them down Labour’s throat as well would win the day with the electorate and cement his reputation as the Iron Chancellor the country needed. He badly miscalculated, as we are now seeing.
This now confronts Labour with its most important choice in this Parliament. Is it going to continue with its feeble me-tooism policy – spending cuts throughout the next 5 years, but slightly gentler, over a longer timescale, and a bit more flexibility for capital spending? As public sentiment begins to shift away from endless cuts, that would let Osborne off the hook: we would have all 3 main parties united against a majority of the British people. Or is Labour going to be brave at last and have the guts to tell the truth, that it’s not a matter of tweaking the austerity policy here and there, it’s the fundamental policy that’s wrong. This is Labour’s biggest chance, but don’t count on it!