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Never mind the riot, the Tories are popular - and the IDS welfare reforms help explain why

By Paul Goodman

Screen shot 2010-11-11 at 08.08.27 The windows are smashing.  The rioters are coming.  The cuts are rampant.  The poll tax is back.  Everyone hates the Tories.  The election is lost.  Run for the hills, everyone!

Or rather, don't.  Just sit still for a moment.

As the taxpaying workers toil to clear up the shattered glass, charred placards, and scattered furniture left by the taxpayer-funded students (and others), let's try to think rationally - which University education should help one to do, although evidence of it yesterday, in the vicinity of the streets outside 30 Millbank, was scant.

Yesterday's rioters won't pay the tuition fees which were the explanation they'd offer for their thuggery and stupidity.  This is a reminder that most of the Government's announcements have yet to be effected.  When they are, we'll see whether the pain (and pain there will be in plenty) comes bunched together in a series of closures, protests, demonstrations and strikes, or whether all this will be spread out more evenly.

Whatever happens, the Government's almost certain to become unpopular and its poll ratings to plummet.  That's the Conservative ratings, of course, since the Liberal Democrat ones are already disappearing through the floorboards in a journey to the centre of the earth.  The loathed, dreaded, detested Tories will be the target of the far left Calibans - who, on yesterday's evidence, seem to want to transform the streets into a kind of '80s tribute disco, with added violence, self-righteousness and malignity.

Local elections will see Tory Councillors put to the electoral sword, and Conservative Councils will be sandcastles smashed by a red tide.  And, sure, this may well be a one-term Government: Benedict Brogan wrote yesterday that David Cameron is prepared for such an outcome.  However, it may not.  Yesterday, there was a lot of talk about - and, in some quarters, even nostalgia for - the student demos of the late '60s and the poll tax riots of the early '90s.  So just remind me then: who won the election that followed those riots?  (And that of 1970, come to think of it?)

The more anarchists who know nothing and students who should know better gibber slogans, wreck property and send others to casualty - good fortune yesterday spared police and student deaths and serious injuries - the more the left in general and Miliband in particular will be required to condemn unequivocally those who carry out such actions.  Since Labour's leader is a democrat - and, I think, a decent man - this ought to be easy.  Furthemore, his head, or rather his wits, are in the right place.  He knows that Labour with added Hard Left isn't a recipe the voters care for.

The problem is that part of the Left's heart is in the wrong place - or at least muddled and confused.  The usual useful idiots - or rather useless idiots - are already in evidence: see here, for example.  Miliband could trust to his superb position in the Commons - 258 MPs on 29 per cent of the vote - to deliver him victory.  But it may not be enough if large parts of his Party relive their '80s and even '60s youth, reflexively oppose everything the Coalition does, condone rioters, and propose nothing, or at least no coherent programme.

Present polls tell us nothing about the next election result.  But they're probably a good enough snapshot of today's opinon.  The last YouGov poll on the UK Polling Report site found the Conservatives at 42 per cent: the Party is bobbling about at about the 40 per cent mark - well up on the election.  At the time of the poll tax riots, it was down in the thirties - and lower during the early eighties.  40 per cent or a bit upwards is as near popularity as British elections deliver, and the simple truth, unpalatable to the far left and right alike, is that the Cameron/Clegg combo still has the benefit of the doubt with voters.  Broken glass doesn't mean a busted honeymoon.

Note that it's the Conservatives - and not their Liberal Democrat partners - who have that benefit.  Why?  This morning's news points to part of the explanation.  The Daily Telegraph unveils a further part of Iain Duncan Smith's Welfare White Paper, reporting that -

"Anyone claiming unemployment benefit will have to sign a "three strikes and you're out" contract setting out punishments for the work-shy. Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, will announce a "claimant contract" which will set out the sanctions against those refusing to take up offers of work.

Those who fail to accept a job offer, or refuse to apply for a position recommended by an employment adviser will, on the first occasion, lose their £64-a-week Jobseeker's Allowance for three months.

If they do it a second time their benefit will be halted for six months. If they refuse for a third time they will lose the benefit for three years.

Those who refuse to take part in unpaid community work, which will become mandatory as part of the Government's new welfare-to-work plans, will be subject to the same penalties.

Last night, David Cameron said a "life on benefits" would no longer be an option for those capable of returning to work."

On welfare, schools and localism in particular - as well as deficit reduction, the crux of its programme - the Coalition's doing the right thing, and Tory Ministers are in the lead.  The only workable explanation of the Party's present poll ratings is that the voters sense this, and like it.  Which is why the best response to yesterday's disgrace is: keep calm and carry on.

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