100 Days: the Coalition is still enjoying a honeymoon

by Stephen Tall on August 18, 2010

Last month, YouGov’s Peter Kellner penned a rather premature post, which stated categorically: The honeymoon is over. I took him to task at the time, and stand by my view that the Coalition is still regarded generally favourably by a plurality of the public.

It’s been interesting, then, to read some of the barrage of opinion polling which has greeted the Coalition’s first 100 days. Perhaps most significant is this article in The Guardian – Coalition winning argument on economy – detailing ICM polling which shows 44% believe the coalition is doing a good job in securing economic recovery against 37% who say it is doing a bad job. Overall the Coalition has a healthy +10% approval rating. Even George Osborne has a net positive rating as Chancellor.

The paper could have led on the headline voting intention survey showing Labour and the Tories tied on 37%. Yet – for all its habitual Coalition scepticism – it’s highlighted the key finding which should act as a stark wake-up call to Labour: they are free to draw comfort from the fact that they’re level-pegging in the polls, but the longer-term picture is bleak… Labour has failed to convince the public that it’s argument against cutting spending now is the right one. If the UK avoids a double-dip recession now (by no means a certainty), Labour will find it very hard to win back public confidence in its economic competence. And that is a lot more significant for the parties’ future electoral prospects than today’s headline voting intentions.

There is a similarly positive message for the Coalition from YouGov, reported by Anthony Wells’ UK Polling Report blog. Messrs Cameron and Clegg both “enjoy good approval ratings”, and “the majority of the public have confidence in the government’s ability to run the economy (55%) and there is widespread confidence in their ability to cut the deficit (62%)”. No, not everything is rosy – for example, there are doubts about the Coalition’s ability to improve the NHS and schools, and unsurprising opposition to specific measures such as the VAT increase. But overall the public is cutting the Coalition some slack in dealing with these issues.

Finally, Ipsos MORI has published The Coalition’s First 100 Days: The public’s verdict. Key findings include:

  • This government has the highest ‘100th day’ rating of any since 1979, except for Blair’s Labour government in 1997;
  • Despite their gloomy outlook on the state of Britain’s economy, the public appears to have more confidence in the Coalition’s economic policies than they had in Labour’s approach to managing the economy;
  • By 58% to 35% the public agree there is a real need to cut spending on public services in order to pay off the very high national debt we now have.

100 days is far, far too early to start judging a government, or indeed an opposition. Given how unexpectedly the last 12 months has turned out, who on earth would sanely try and predict the next five years?

But the underlying support for the Coalition’s measures to address the economy should worry Labour: assuming by the time of the next general election the economy is growing again, they risk becoming tainted as the party which contributed to the UK’s problems, and then opposed every measure needed to rescue the country. If that happens, they will not win back their economic crediblity; and if they don’t win that back, it’s very unlikely they can win the next general election.

At the moment, Labour has taken solace in opposition. They are enjoying the freedom which comes from shirking off all responsibility. But if their public image becomes defined by the hyperbolic, tribal, knee-jerk to every Coalition measure taken – as exemplified by John Prescott’s self-indulgent explosion on BBC2′s Newsnight this week – then the honeymoon will last much, much longer.