The Corner

Nil Desperandum, Dear Boy

I noted earlier that the News of the World scandal:

has handed Ed Miliband an easy play. He can ignore the fact that his government did untold damage to the British economy, and that he has no serious alternative plan for fixing it, and stand up as the representative of the people against “the man.” Previous exchanges across the despatch boxes in the House of Commons have been mostly to Cameron’s advantage, a man vs. boy scenario. But now the prime minister looks cowed, and has little alternative but to acquiesce. Meanwhile, according to the Independent (which is anything but), the polls have turned in Miliband’s, and Labour’s, favor. If anything, Cameron will have to out-condemn his opposite number to stay afloat. Either way the Labour party wins. If Cameron defends News International, then he looks complicit and out of touch. If he joins with Ed Miliband in his crusade, he damns a large portion of the very press that helped him get to Number Ten.

It would be hyperbolic to suggest that the scandal could bring down the government, but this is certainly a turning point. The Conservative-Liberal coalition is a much as marriage of convenience as it is a meeting of minds, and it wouldn’t take too much for it to collapse. More worrying for the Conservatives, however, is that this could be the making of Ed Miliband. His leadership of the Labour party had been chalked up as an asset to the Tories, but they hadn’t counted on one thing: events, dear boy, events.

However, polling in the Guardian looks as if it entirely disagrees with the Independent, and there is no meaningful difference in public opinion:

The phone-hacking crisis has so far done little to shift attitudes to political leaders and their parties, a Guardian/ICM poll suggests. A small recovery in Ed Miliband’s personal rating has not been matched by a rise in Labour support.

Instead, the Liberal Democrats appeared to have gained most, with party support up four points to 16%. That is the highest in an ICM poll since March, and also higher than in recent polls, whose different methodology typically shows a higher Labour and low Lib Dem share than the long-running Guardian/ICM series.

This month’s rise in Lib Dem support has come at Labour’s expense, with the party dropping three points to 36%.

This move, not yet confirmed by other polls, has the effect of giving the Conservatives, unchanged on 37%, a one-point lead. Only one other poll this year, also from ICM in March, has shown the Conservatives ahead. Other smaller parties are on a combined 11%.

If this is the case, then Ed Miliband may well be as unlikable to the British public as he seems. The rise in Liberal Democrat support can be discounted as usual; historically any bump in favor of Britain’s perpetual third party never lasts very long, and even if it sticks the electoral system makes it difficult for any genuine surge in support to translate into votes come crunch time. For David Cameron to come out of this unscathed, or even up on the deal, would be a devastating blow to his opposite number.


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