ICM’s monthly poll for the Guardian has topline figures of CON 37%, LAB 34%, LDEM 21%. The changes from the last ICM poll are Labour up 2, with the other two parties unchanged. The poll was conducted between the 15th and 17th of February.

The poll continues the pattern we’ve seen since September last year of Labour doing comparatively better compared to the Conservatives in ICM polls done for the Guardian than in polls done for other clients. As I said when I first commented on this apparent pattern, I can find no obvious explanation for it, but as the months go past the patten seems to be consistent. The shift in voting intention from the last ICM/Guardian poll, which may be the better comparison, is Labour down 1 and the Lib Dems up 1.

The rest of the poll concentrated on attitudes towards taxataion. Forced to chose between tax cuts and reduced services or sustained spending, 51% said they would chose sustained spending with 36% backing tax cuts. What to make of this question depends largely on the wording – it is implied in the Guardian’s coverage that people were presented with the choice of existing spending or tax cuts even if it meant cuts in spending for services like the NHS. In practice no party will ever go into an election promising tax cuts at the expense of the NHS: parties promising tax reductions will present them as being funded in more acceptable ways, while judging from past election campaigns their opponents will try to paint any promised cuts as being funding out of whatever public spending is most popular. How popular tax cuts actually are will depend upon which of these various claims the public actually believe.


83 Responses to “Tories 3 points ahead in latest ICM poll”

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  1. Joe
    I would agree with you up to a point on NR. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the short term effects were not particularly good for the Tories, for a variety of reasons.

    The Tory message was actually a fair one; that the FSA set up by Brown failed.
    – The idea the Tories were being unfairly asked ‘How would YOU sort out a mess THEY made?’ didn’t seem to get through.

    – Nor did the distinction between Nationalisation and Administration. [I can’t help wondering if that was affected in part by the fear of being cast as the ‘nasty party’. Anatole Kaletsky claims it works out at £18 million per job!]

    – Nor did the fact that if you can’t see the books, you can’t you make a judgement.

    Unless personally affected, many people will not examine the issue closely, but will merely gravitate to the position they feel offers most stability.
    In the short term the Govt position offers a superficial status quo and therefore is easier to understand.

    This could be a long narrative and we don’t yet know where it will take us.

    I believe the Tory position has found firm feet. The FoI and Granite line feed into the ‘Tell us what is going on?’ question.
    When EVERYONE is asking ‘ What is really going on behind closed books?’, you can be forgiven for not giving a one word answer to how you would deal with it. The Lib Dem position lcould look premature if they were ready to buy blind only to find £40 billion of assetts are not available as security.

    The current business dealings do not make for pithy headlines.
    If a belief that the Govt are covering their tracks in order to cover their political backs rather than protecting the taxpayer developes, it will do so slowly, but it is potentially deadly -particularly if people are nervous about the economy or resenting their tax bills in a time of squeeze.

  2. Re ICM/Guardian.
    I confess I am confused.

    I would like to accept what has been said…. I can’t really buy into some sort of conspiracy theory.

    However I can’t say I feel reassured.
    It is not just that the Guardian polls seem to throw up odd variations, they seem to throw up a consistent pattern of variation.

    Let’s be honest, if the figures were Government stats we many would laugh at those who gave any credence to them in these circumstances.

  3. You might laugh at people who give credence to the ONS, Sally, but not I.

    The figure of £18m per job is reached by dividing £108bn (possible maximum taxpayer EXPOSURE (nb not COST) by 6000 (the number of employees). If NR’s assets are worth zero, then so are everbody else’s, and therefore NR would be the least of our worries! Your source is silly.

    Part of the Tories’ political problem in the Autumn was that John Redwood had just published a report calling for less burdensome oversight of the banking system. After a major review, he had come up with recommendations that would have led to more basket-cases, not fewer.

    That fact alone hampered the attack on Labour. The voters (in my view) are all for protecting as many as possible of jobs of the largely blameless 6000 employees, and probably feel that the Tories would have abandoned them all on (out-dated) ideological grounds. Darling and Brown at least seemed pragmatic when attempting to find a private buyer.

  4. Anatole Kaletski did not say or imply that NR’s assets were worthless.

    He said that Government support for NR now amounted to the totality of its liabilities-£110 billion.He expressed this guarantee in terms of value per NR job to contrast it with lack of support/paltry support by this government for other stated sectors of British Industry.

    With regard to the vexed question of the “cost” of these guarantees, Mathew Parish in the same edition of The Times expresses an interesting view.He quotes Darling saying ” Guarantees have been given but they have not been called, therefore there has been no cost”.

    Parish says-” So risk has no cost-Marvelous. I’ll write to my insurers reclaiming last years premiums. I made no claim.There has been no cost”

  5. Colin – Very good point re the cost of risk.

    The whole insurance industry exists because risk has a value. That’s precisely why it’s so daft to pretend that our exposure is actually hitting us in the pocket. It isn’t. We’re just accepting the risk, with a view to making a profit (by charging a fee, or premium).

    If as a parent you guarantee a loan to your student child, it need not cost you a penny, but your chilkd will benefit by being able to borrow on the back of that guarantee. Needless to say, you as the guarantor will want to keep an eye on the “exposure”. I don’t see much difference with NR.

    Of course it could go terribly wrong if say house prices lose 35% of their value.

    Osborne , Cameron, and Robert Peston rather cloud the issue when they try to tell us that it means every taxpayer has taken out an extra mortgage of £3000. I wish my 200k mortgage had the same terms!(ie no interest to pay, redemption at no cost to me in 5-10 years plus a potential
    profit)

  6. john tt

    You assert:-“After a major review, ( John Redwood) had come up with recommendations that would have led to more basket-cases, not fewer.”

    This is the exact opposite of John Redwoods views & of his Review.

    This is a quote from Redwoods website:-

    ” In the Conservative Economic Policy Review we warned that once times got more difficult in money markets the UK was uniquely vulnerable to a banking crisis because these reforms left the Bank of England unable to respond quickly in the way it could have done prior to the Brown changes.

    Last August we stated in Freeing Britain to compete:

    “We are concerned about the division of responsibility between the FSA and the Bank over banking and market regulation. Fortunately, conditions in the last decade have been benign internationally, with no serious threats to banking liquidity. We think it would be safer if the Bank of England had responsibility for solvency regulation of UK based banks, as well as having an overall duty to keep the system solvent. Otherwise there could be dangerous delays if a banking crisis did hit, with information having to be exchanged between the two regulators; and there might be gaps in each regulator’s view of the banking sector at a crucial time, where early regulatory action might have spared a worse problem”

    It is a great pity that the Government was incapable of seeing what the Opposition was able to see.But of course Brown’s regulatory regime was unchallengable by any Labour Minister.It now lies exposed as a shambles along with many other items of apparel in The Emperor’s Clothes.

  7. Colin – point taken, I’ve found the report. The tenor of Redwood’s review was reported at the time as being anti-regulatory , and I was going on what I’d heard rather than reading the thing through.

    I’ve read a bit lately on Redwood’s potential re-habilitation on the front bench, so I’ll be reading his full report asap now I’ve found it.
    Cheers
    j

  8. “safer if the Bank of England had responsibility for solvency regulation of UK based banks”

    We’re assuming of course that Redwood was advocating hands-on BofE involvement and approval of each bank’s business plan and borrowing mechanisms. Nothing short of that would have prevented NR’s disaster.

    Redwood seems to be attacking the “delay” – again, there’s nothing to suggest that “delay” exacerbated the situation.

  9. John tt:-

    “Needless to say, you as the guarantor will want to keep an eye on the “exposure”. I don’t see much difference with NR.”

    I see a hell of a difference-but there’s no way of knowinng because the Bill presented by the government tells us nothing about the state of NR-indeed seeks to exempt it from the FoI Act.
    Talk a bout a pig in a poke!

  10. The “eye” is the appointed chief exec. Commercial confidentiality / competition versus public accountability is an interesting argument – again I was assuming that Redwood’s approach would have been “hands off”, but if it’s as socialistic as you’re suggesting it should be, then that’s more news to me.

    I look forward to Cameron advocating the books of all financial institutions to be opened to public srutiny, in the interests of fair competition, to go with his new “Redwoodite” policy of empowering the BofE to engage in all the boardrooms without the “delay” of having to work with the FSA!

  11. I am tempted to join in Colin but you seem to need the help.

    John
    Not all Govt stats come from the ONS.

    Did you catch the story about the attacks on fire crews? After recieving many complaint about increased attacks they undertook their own survey. They found a 15% increase in the past year. The Govt claimed there were 69% LESS.
    Asked to explain the anomoly the fire service rep said, rather disarmingly, that he had no idea particularly as they asked the same questions in the same way.
    Odd, but not funny.

  12. Colin
    Should not post with small boys screaming/shooting/climbing/running… giving me a headache…
    that should read… Don’t need help

  13. On NRock, whatever Joe Public thinks, everybody who understands economics or the City knows that it has been very badly handled. With an election up to 2 years away, the long term effect of the government losing respect amongst anyone who is in a position to judge Economic Competence is far worse than an Opinion Poll blip.

    The loss of Darling’s credibility is also a serious problem. See eg John Gapper in today’s FT “You could view [Darling’s] decision to reject the Lloyds TSB offer, then guarantee the Rock’s deposits, then negotiate with private bidders and finally nationalise it as a statesmanlike mulling of less-than-perfect options culminating in decisive action. Or you could see it as pathetic dithering followed by the abandonment of all hope. Unfortunately, some Downing Street officials, while espousing the former view in public, seem privately to favour the latter.”

  14. Hi Sally – shooting? blimey! Not at our brave firemen I hope!

    Most Govt statistics are drawn from independent sources, though many are open to re-interpretation. Was the fire service survey independent?

    Coiln – I’m intrigued to know what the “hell of a difference” is between a guarantee and a guarantee.

    Sally – I’m surpised at Redwood’s socialistic interventionism re NR type problems – you, like Colin don’t seem to be!

  15. Nbeale – I work in The City, and amongst my colleagues and friends, opinion is divided, though with a majority (Tory voters all!) who wanted a private solution as soon as the story broke, if not before. (They rather like the Bank of England Chairman in Yes Prime Minister who would have punished Applegarth by “taking him out to lunch”!)

    The problem with Tory failure to seize a substantialadvantage is that they have never put forward a strong statement of what should happen at any stage, unlike the LibDems, whose idea to Nationalise straightaway would have been vulnerable to legal challenges far more vigorous than are now contemplated.

  16. NBeale:
    “Unfortunately, some Downing Street officials, while espousing the former view in public, seem privately to favour the latter.”
    I’m sure any reporter worth his pay can always find “some officials” to say whatever makes a good story. That doesn’t add any extra weight to the opposite view: statesman-like mulling over all the options, rather than the Tory mantra of “dithering”.

    Colin:
    “If a belief that the Govt are covering their tracks in order to cover their political backs rather than protecting the taxpayer developes, it will do so slowly”
    A sneak view into the Tory mind-set? Anything the govt does has GOT to be wrong, stupid, corrupt – or all three – and it just takes a bit of time to get that view across.

  17. JohnH
    The quote you attribute to Colin was in fact mine.

    I note you rewrite my words to fit your interpretation….

    Insight into a Labour mind?.

  18. Well, coincidences do happen – more often than we’re willing to accept.

    WRT local by-elections, at the moment, the Conservatives are a long way ahead of Labour or the Lib Dems, in terms of vote share.

  19. john tt:-

    “I look forward to Cameron advocating the books of all financial institutions to be opened to public srutiny, in the interests of fair competition, to go with his new “Redwoodite” policy of empowering the BofE to engage in all the boardrooms without the “delay” of having to work with the FSA!”

    This isn’t the point at all-the issue is the accountability of publicly owned organisations. So far as I am aware all others are open to the scrutiny of Parliament & it’s agencies & committees.As I have followed the Nationalisation Bill debate, I have observed opposition spokesmen complaining that NR is to be exempted from such accountability & scrutiny under the Bill as drafted.THey objected to this-so do I.I suspect their Lordships will not take kindly to it either.

    “I’m intrigued to know what the “hell of a difference” is between a guarantee and a guarantee.”

    The difference I perceive is that between a guarantee of a loan to ones child and a guarantee of the total liabilities of Northern Rock.You said “I don’t see much difference”…..I do.

  20. Jon tt: what should have happened is that the govt should have accepted the LLoyds TSB offer to buy the bank and offered the standby credit line they were requesting. As the French have shown, it was simply not true that EU Law would have prevented this. Given that they missed this opportunity, they should have paid the depositors and put NR into Administration under the supervision of the Bank of England. Unfortunately we seem to have a PM who (a) can’t take decisions and (b) doesn’t understand the difference between Administration and Liquidation. Hence this appalling fiasco which has already cost the taxpayer well over £100M and will probably end up costing £4-14bn.

    If any of your friends in the City actually think the Govt has handled NR well then they are extraordinarily badly informed.

  21. JohnH: OpEd pieces by John Gapper in the FT about “Downing Street Officials” are based on real discussions with real officials – he is not “some reporter”. I have no doubt that a lot of senior people are talking quite frankly “off the record” on this.

  22. N Beale

    Yes I read the FT article you refer to. The assertion that there was in fact an offer from LLoyds TSB ( indeed three by some accounts)before things got out of control-and that it foundered because the Treasury refused to give certain guarantees on deposits shotfall-is a key one.

    If true it vindicates those who accuse the Government of delay and prevarication.

    Unless I am mistaken, Brown is on record as saying there was no offer from LLoyds TSB.

    Perhaps this disparity will be cleared up in due course.

  23. The House of Lords has defeated the Government on NR by inserting checks on the powers in the Nationalisation Bill, requiring independent audit of what the taxpayer is being expected to buy and giving freedom of information to the public about what is being done in their name.

  24. “the govt should have accepted the LLoyds TSB offer to buy the bank and offered the standby credit line they were requesting”

    If they’d done that, there’d have been howls of derision, and quite right too, at the price of the credit line. Lloyds were told that their “offer” would have to make sense to the taxpayer – their terms were worse than olivant’s.

    My “friends in the City” don’t have judgemental blinkers – their interest lies in with recognising a good deal rather than judging competence. Lloyds weren’t offering a good deal. Nor was Branson or anyone else, simply because there was no “good deal” to be had.

    Colion –

    “NR is to be exempted from such accountability & scrutiny under the Bill as drafted”

    No – its accountability is in place; the degree of publication of its confidential arrangements is the thing at issue. The accusation of “quadrangle politics” hits the Tories because they are seeking to blur, simply for the sake of scoring debating points, the issues of proper accountability and reasonable commercial confidentiality. Theirs is an immature approach to a problem that iscrying out for non-ideological thinking.

    Redwood’s only thought on this is that the delay was the problem. Wrong. NR was stuffed by its dodgy business strategy coupled with extremely dubious selling of dodgy mortgages, closely followed by shenanigans of re-packaged mortgage bonds, smelly mortgages dressed up as AAA rated and sold on around the world. No degree of fleet-footedness would have lifted NR out from the mire.

  25. There was no Offer but there were three offers.
    So Brown is technically correct – obviously Lloyds TSB would not waste money and time making a formal offer unless they had cleared the principle with the Bank and the Treasury. But there is little doubt that, if they had got the nod, they would have made a formal Offer.

  26. The “nod” would have raised the question – why are we providing a public subsidy to a private sale? (This is widely regarded as a worse outcome than nationalisation)

  27. The opposition has had no consistent and convincing line on what to do about NR since it happened, but have been hoping that somehow it could be worked up into Labour’s “Black Wednesday”.

    Even now, while it is their right (and duty) to criticise the government, they failed to convince on rational arguments that they could have achieved any better outcome. They have instead recycled yet again their trivial mantra of “dither”, tried personal attack on Darling, tried to present nationalisation as a throwback to the 70s, gone WAY over the top with talk of calamity…

    They have not come out of this week looking like a convincing alternative government. Brown’s jibe about “student politics” was perhaps un unfair slur on students.

  28. As far as I am aware Labour advocated membership of the ERM and were not clamoring for withdrawl or a devaluation of Sterling against the Mark in the days and weeks before the fallout. But thy still benefitted quite hugely from it.

  29. Lukw – the Tories haven’t benefitted hugely and they should have done. Portillo made a good point last night – they had the combined experience of Clarke, Lawson, Lamont and Howe at their disposal – did they ask them for a clear idea of what the opposition policy should be? Why not?

  30. New Yougov poll for Economist post NR has Conservative lead down to 6% Con 40 Lab 34 LibDem 16 .

  31. a 6 point Tory lead sounds very credible at the moment

  32. Sounds very credible to me, too – trending gradually downwards over the last few months from a short-lived peak of 13% to something more like the expected lead by the opposition at a difficult time for the government in mid-term.

    Yes, Portillo etc. made the prediction that this is not good enough for an outright win by the conservatives at the next election.

    Even if there are very difficult times ahead for Labour in the next year, this remains a marathon – and, despite the hopes of many who comment here, the outcome two years hence is wide open.

  33. The timing of this pole was interesting.

    It was before the nationalisation of Northern Rock was announced.

    It was also before Cameron said that trips to Auschwitz were a gimmick.

    Considering that these have been the only two interesting political events since Christmas, I can’t wait to see what the next poll (from whoever) says.

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