Tuesday, December 23, 2008


A Sea Change in Voter Attitudes to Public Spending?

The ComRes Poll in the Independent, which showed Labour closing on the Conservatives last month, this time shows Tories on 39, Labour on 34 and Lib Dems 16. Not so bad, you might think, only 5% difference but the other major finding of the poll will worry the government to its very bone marrow, as Andrew Grice explains:

But asked how they would vote if the Tories committed themselves to a lower level of public spending than Labour and to try not to raise taxes – Mr Cameron's current policy – 49 per cent said Tory, 32 per cent Labour and 11 per cent the Liberal Democrats. There was a similar result when people were asked how they would vote if Labour committed itself to higher public spending than the Tories and admitted it was likely to mean an increase in some personal taxes – Mr Brown's current position. The figures were: Tory 48 per cent, Labour 30 per cent, Liberal Democrats 13 per cent.

This poll suggests the public are undergoing a major shift of opinion as the recession begins to bite. It also means that even if Labour's 'fiscal stimulus' succeeds in reviving the economy, voters may well punish them for the price paid in the coin of increased taxation. We've been here before, one wearily observes, during the 1980s. Then Conservatives exploited public rejection of Labour's high seventies taxes and began to cut services to allow tax cuts to be made.

The result was the virtual atrophy of the health and education services, much to the anger and disgust of voters who found themselves waiting for months for much needed operations. So the pendulum swung back towards the cleverly positioned Tony Blair who presided over the avalanche of funding poured into public services since his second electoral victory in 2001. Most-though not all- polls showed improved perceptions of the NHS but, unless this poll is a rogue one, the banking crisis and the resultant recession look like swinging voters back towards starving public services once again. Depressing? You bet.

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