It looked as if Boris Johnson might be getting away with his regressive tax rise and thin ‘social care plan’ that is really an NHS backlog-clearing plan. The rushed vote largely quashed a potential rebellion of Tory MPs and polling had shown lukewarm public support for a National Insurance hike. But a much-needed bit of good news for Labour has arrived: in a new poll by YouGov for The Times, the opposition party takes the lead for the first time since January. It is mostly thanks to a significant five-point drop in backing for the Conservatives, now on 33%. Just 1% of voters believe the new levy and social care reforms announced this week will leave them better off.
Con: 33% (-5 from 2-3 Sep)
Lab: 35% (+1)
Lib Dem: 10% (+2)
Green: 9% (-1)
SNP: 5% (n/c)
Reform UK: 5% (+2)
Everyone knows that a single poll should be treated with caution. However, there does appear to be a recent trend of the Tories polling below 40%, which is very positive for Labour. Political scientist Paula Surridge has also highlighted that in the oldest age group, over-65s, the Conservatives are down nine points and Labour is up five. She concludes that this may be the effect of the other, quieter, manifesto-breaking move this week that saw the pensions triple lock suspended.
Keir Starmer has, sort of, come out in favour of a wealth tax to pay for social care reform. Pressed repeatedly by Sky’s Beth Rigby for an answer on funding social care, he said Labour would look at “a range of options” and spoke of “those with the broadest shoulders”. After quite a bit of pushing, the Labour leader eventually said “yes, all of those options are a wealth tax” (although I think the examples he gave were more taxes on income gained from assets, i.e. capital gains tax, than a wealth tax).
In response to Starmer’s hesitation, many will say: well, why make the Labour leader and his alternative the story, distracting from the missteps of the Tories? With a media intent on being hostile towards Labour, putting forward another plan for scrutiny would surely only invite criticism even if the party has first been urged to do precisely that. Instead, play it safe for now – and allow Tory support to be eroded, as shown in the latest poll.
But others will argue that Labour cannot stand still and needs to set out its alternatives, which means taking risks, to reap real benefits. Andy Burnham, for example, has said the Tory announcement this week “opens up the biggest opportunity Labour has had for some time to present a plan for a better, fairer country” and his advice “would be not to leave it too long before presenting one”. All eyes are on Starmer’s fast-approaching conference speech.Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.