It is a really weird time in British politics. There are strange currents going this way and that, breaking down traditional right-left thought patterns. Europe is the classic issue in this regard. Most Labour MPs want the UK to remain a member of the EU. However, the success of this partly rests on a Tory prime minister and his chancellor remaining popular enough with their section of the electorate to make this possible. Talk about divided loyalties.
It seems to have been decided that this was not a successful budget for Osborne. What is interesting about this collective verdict is that it shows up the idea that taking the centre ground is easy, middling and the least risky option. George has just demonstrated that it is actually one of the most difficult things you can try and do in a budget – hoping to appeal to everyone. If he’d just gone with a solidly right-wing budget, he could have pulled some of the Eurosceptics in his party at least partially back on side. This would have been the least precarious thing for Osborne to have done in reality. What he did instead – putting forward a budget that was a mixed bag of things both the left and right would possibly like (and possibly hate in equal measure) – took balls. The Guardian were never about to give him a metaphorical pat on the back for sugar tax, while the right-wing rags would have halted its mission to do him down as the next Tory leader if the budget had been more Tory friendly.
In the wake of this, a YouGov poll comes out putting Labour one point ahead, 34-33: the first Labour poll lead with Kellner’s outfit since the election. If it were a one off, fine, but other companies have showed a narrowing of the polls as well. This will be twisted in all sorts of ways by those who wish to pull the polls into their own political narrative, but the most likely cause is a negative public reaction to Tory in-fighting as opposed to a sudden conversation to Corbynism. One of the reasons I think Jeremy will hang onto the leadership into the next general election is that stuff like this, a one point lead from nowhere in the polls, will always crop up now and again because the Labour brand remains strong (in England and Wales anyhow).
Along with this, telephone polls have started showing Leave in front of Remain for the first time – formerly, there has been a solid Remain lead in the phone polls for reasons no one could understand. That appears to have gone. One in particular had Leave ahead by two points this week.
Whatever else is happening, it seems that the Tory government’s honeymoon is very likely over. Will the public getting tired of the Conservatives ironically lead to the cherished wish of so many Tory members and MPs in the form of leaving the European Union a reality?
Here’s what I think: the fighting between Cameron and Boris has made the Tories look bad. It’s also made some people contemplate Boris as prime minister for the first time and many of them probably find that distasteful, however much they like Boris in a vague sort of light entertainment way. The Tories engaging in internecine warfare has also made people temporarily forget about how terrible Jeremy Corbyn is. But as the the May elections approach, it will come back to them. And actual votes are what really count – as May 2015 reminds us – not what the pollsters tell us beforehand.