Of the nine most recent opinion polls, only three show Labour leads, according to Anthony Wells’ UK Polling Report. As he points out, polls in the post-conference season aftermath can be volatile. But the findings are undoubtedly part of a consistent pattern: Labour simply cannot break through, despite the Government’s appalling Brexit problems, to establish a double-digit lead. Why?
A persuasive answer is that the country is divided into two unarmed political camps – those willing at least to take a chance on Jeremy Corbyn’s Marxist record and instincts, and those prepared at least to lend support to Theresa May, for fear of a far left Labour Government.
This is the truth, but not all of it. The state of the economy is a big factor in the mix. Obviously, downturns or worse don’t automatically guarantee the pitching-out of a government from office. John Major’s narrow win in 1992 is a textbook example. Nor does recovery necessarily pave the path to victory. Major’s landslide defeat in 1997 marks another page in the book.
But the recent crash-hit, low wage, immigration-heavy, technology-challenged story of the liberal west – complete with economies eased off life support by the drug of quantitative easing – has seen everything from Syriza through Donald Trump to the AfD by way of response. So were British voters experiencing new economic pain, one would expect early-to-mid term protest at least, as they voiced their anger by backing Labour or other opposition parties.
And plenty of pain there has been: the last decade was the worst for British living standards in 200 years. But yesterday’s news about wages and jobs surely helps to explain why Conservative poll ratings are so buoyant. The former are growing at their fastest rate for ten years. The latter are at a near-record high, with the unemployment rate at its lowest since the mid-1970s.
Qualifications and additions are required. For example, once inflation is stripped out of the calculation, pay growth comes in at 0.6 per cent.
But employment has been extraordinarily resilient. Nor has the increase been concentrated in part-time work. Full-time jobs have accounted for most of the rise. Yesterday’s figures show further evidence for the trend, with an actual fall in the number of women newly recorded to be working part-time. (The rise in those recorded to be working full-time is higher than the equivalent figure for men.)
Part of the good news is that, as you would expect us to join other Leavers in pointing out, these rises have happened “despite Brexit”. The bad news is that No Deal would undoubtedly wreak short-term havoc. What would happen over the longer-term is disputed, with our columnist, Open Europe’s Henry Newman, writing on this site yesterday to argue that lowering tariffs and opening the economy up further to investment could, according to the organisations’s new report, reduce the longer-term drag on growth to 0.5 per cent.