*This post was first produced for Public Finance
As the summer draws to a close and the school year begins so politicians embark on a new term at the House of Commons. It has been a summer of dramatic events with barely any time for the traditional media silly season.
Phone hacking and scrutiny of the Murdoch empire took us into the summer, and just when journalists and politicians had settled into their holidays, the riots began in London and quickly spread to other parts of the country. Phone hacking and riots will feature in the committee rooms in parliament’s first week back but as in previous years, it is the economy that poses the biggest questions.
As surprising as it might sound, our latest poll for Reuters showed that despite a summer of major news stories, there has been relatively little political impact. Since June Labour’s support in the polls has remained unchanged on around 39% to 40%. The Conservatives have had a slightly more turbulent time, particularly in the immediate aftermath of ‘hackgate’. While support for Labour and the Liberal Democrats did not change, the Conservatives dropped by 5 points to the benefit of smaller parties.
The riots too had little effect on voting intentions, although support for smaller parties fell away again as public disorder concentrated minds on the major players. While our Issues Index reported an increase in public concern over crime, no party particularly benefited from this.
Following a personal battering about his relationship with News International and the hiring of Andy Coulson, the riots offered the prime minister an opportunity to demonstrate leadership and authority in the face of crisis. Cameron has been highly visible since the riots, using strong language and calling for tough punishments as well as seeking to understand the reasons why the riots happened. However, despite a significant majority of the public (69%) agreeing with his analysis of the riots that ‘pockets of Britain are not only broken, but frankly sick’, the prime minister’s satisfaction ratings among the public remain unchanged at 39%.
Satisfaction with Cameron among Tories, however, has waned slightly over the spring and summer. Conference will be a time to rally his party and cement the backing of the party faithful.
The deputy prime minister remains the least popular leader of the main parties. Only three in ten are satisfied with his performance. Key for Clegg is the views of his own supporters. Since the general election, satisfaction with the deputy prime minister has fallen both among the public and among Liberal Democrat supporters. Indeed, over the past year Conservatives have been as satisfied or more satisfied with Clegg’s performance as have Liberal Democrats. Conference will be a tricky time for the Liberal Democrats as they have to balance the responsibility of being in government with a more assertive approach on key issues – something we’ve already seen on schools, the NHS and planning.
This is Ed Miliband’s first full conference as Labour leader providing him with an opportunity to make a mark with the public. One in five still have not made up their mind up about him therefore presenting an opportunity to make a positive impact. He also needs to play to the faithful. This has been one of his key strengths – but it is still the case that Labour’s supporters are less enthusiastic about their leader than Tories are about theirs. The concern for the Labour leader may be that a year into his leadership attitudes towards him may be difficult to shift.
Once the fun and games in Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester end, politicians get back to serious work. The government faces some big policy challenges – reforms to the NHS, defence cuts, changes to planning policy and many more. This will no doubt prove tricky particularly given that nearly two-thirds of senior managers and directors within the public sector do not think that the government’s policies will improve the state of public services in the long term, according to the Ipsos MORI Public Sector Leaders Survey. Of course the economy remains the major concern. Economic optimism continues to fall in the wake of the continued debt crisis in America and the Eurozone; half of British adults expect the economy to get worse in the next year as pessimism about the short-term future of the economy has been increasing month-on-month since May. Indeed, Britons are among the most economically pessimistic in the world. This is going to be an important metric to watch for the government as electoral fortunes will be closely tied to the success or failure of policies on the economy.
Ipsos MORI and Reuters will be co-hosting fringe events at all three party conferences using brand new polling to explore what the public really thinks about the parties and their leaders. Speakers include David Davis MP, Hilary Benn MP, Simon Hughes MP, Lord Rennard and Isabel Oakeshott from The Sunday Times. For more information click here