Statistics don’t show public’s attitudes have shifted to the right

“We’re more Thatcherite than ever,” yesterday’s newspapers have proclaimed, either with triumph (in the case of the right-wing press) or alarm (in the case of the left). However, although the Daily Mail may insist that “public opinion has swung dramatically to the right”, the statistics simply don’t add up.

You may expect public opinion to move against a government over time. One party is elected, it takes the country in a certain direction, and the small-c conservatism of the public as a whole pulls in the other direction, eventually deciding that the administration has gone too far.

This appears to be the pattern in the United States, for example. While Americans tend to believe government does too much, this gap has widened when a Democrat is in the White House and narrowed when the incumbent is a Republican.

Three measures recorded in the British Social Attitudes survey, on which yesterday’s reports are based, follow this classic pattern to some degree, from 1987 to 2005. That is, in the period 1987-1997 under the Thatcher-Major governments, those saying the income gap is too large, agree that working people do not get a fair share of the nation’s wealth, and think that government should redistribute wealth, grow in numbers.

After 1997, with the Conservatives in opposition and Labour in power, the dynamic goes into reverse, with a drift to the right. However, after 2005, something strange happens. Despite Labour clocking up a decade in office, attitudes move to the left.


These social attitudes at least have been moving in a progressive direction for five years. Furthermore, they are set to accelerate that trend under a Conservative-led government. In fact, we may see a Blairite effect in reverse.

While newspaper reports have asserted that the public’s supposed shift to the right is due to New Labour’s triangulation, the Cameroonian Conservative insistence that inequality matters, may cut away at their own ideological support.

Where progressives do face a difficulty is on public support for increased spending on benefits. This has been on a downward trajectory for a quarter of century. While it was as high as 58 per cent in 1991, it had fallen to 50 per cent five years later and had hit 27 per cent in 2009.


If the Left is to regain ideological ascendenscy, it has to find an answer to this difficult question: why should those who work hard, especially those on low incomes, support those who do not. Valuable work has already begun on the issue, much more is needed.

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  • 13eastie

    “…the statistics simply don’t add up…”

    It is LFF that can’t add up.

    Here’s a statistic: Labour lost 91 seats in the election. If that is not a swing to the right, what is it?

    And is it just conceivable that people always tend to respond more positively to those questions whenever they are feeling the economic pinch from asset bubble expansion or collapse, regardless of who is in power?

    Or that many “working people” now resent not just the perceived unfair distribution of earnings to those higher up the income scale, but the sequestration of all workers’ earnings by Labour’s generation of millions of workless sponges?

    Labour does not have a monopoly on fairness, and until it realises this, it will continue to fail.

    People HAVE moved to the right and away from Labour because they want something that is MORE fair.

  • Chris


    Ermmmm, Cameron improved on Howard by 3%. Not exactly a massive swing to the right or a ringing endorsement of the tory party.

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  • Anon E Mouse

    Chris – The way you go on anyone would think Labour won the election.

    If they keep Little Ed Miliband, the cheating union stooge, tax avoiding, property millionaire as leader they will crash next time.

    Miliband is a dithering helpless dud and 91 seats lost last time? That’ll be nothing when the coalition gets it changes in on the number of seats.

    Less MP’s? Yes please..z

  • Chris


    The way you go on anyone would think you’re a paid tory party troll…oh you are.

    “If they keep Little Ed Miliband, the cheating union stooge, tax avoiding, property millionaire as leader they will crash next time.”

    Can’t you lever in a few more moronic smears and lies into this sentence? He’s Jewish, there is surely some mileage for you in that…

    “Miliband is a dithering helpless dud and 91 seats lost last time? That’ll be nothing when the coalition gets it changes in on the number of seats.”

    Yawn, you’re really growing into a tiresome troll. No new material just the same old rants copy & pasted into the comment box.

    And why are you posting in company time? Slacker!!!

  • Eoin Clarke

    Leo Howe wrote a very good book about life on the dole and people’s attitudes to it. The left has by and large failed people on the dole by refusing to talk about the black economy. An honest dialogue about the black economy could take on many of the Daily Mail mob head one. Let me explain a few examples as to the type of approach which could work….

    We all know at least one person “doing the double” in some small way or another but we don’t talk about it… The JSA nets you £65 a week.. those who do the double [often a fast food delivery guy, or a cleaner [cash in hand role] get paid about £30 per day… They don;t get holiday rights, health and safety is often poor, and the minimum wage is rarely paid. Life on the double is therefore more about using the £65 JSA as a top up for already poor pay. Painter and decorators, farm hands, vegetable pickers, building site labourers… The list of occupations that fir well with doing the double are probably endless, and yet their combined income from JSA and job is rarely above the average wage. These people are vicitms, not cheats.

    Another example of where we need to champion the long term unemployed, is their mental health. I call it the “four wall syndrome” but I am sure a more learned colleague has a more apt descriptor. In short, these people’s social interaction, daily life experience is debilitating on their confidence and health. Unwillingness to take up proper employment has as much to do with esteem, a low feeling of self worth than anything.. In Northern IReland last year, there were 38 million tranquillizers prescribed.. Doctors rather than help their patients, resort to this medication to easily. The average life expectancy of a man form the east end of Glasgow or Inner city Belfast is 54.. a quarter of them have severe mental health problems. Frankly, getting these people into work should only be an aspiration at the end of a long process of therapy, rehabilitation, healthy lifestyle and eating coaching… We as a society are the cheats.. since by not funding proper urban regeneration, and diversifying the metropolitian economy, we have cheated these communities out of fulfilling employment.

    We should stand up for the under class and be proud of them. The only cheats are those who do not recognise their plight.

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  • John77

    Hey – maybe the reason why more people are saying the income gap is too large is because under New Labour it was bigger than under the Tories! You don’t need a shift in public opinion about what is right to get a shift in the view about the income gap when they realise it has increased. Of course there is a time lag because it takes time for people to notice the change, so for the next few years there should be a gradual rise in people objecting to the income gap that Brown created even if Cable manages to shrink it by taxing graduates.

  • 13eastie

    Eoin wrote:

    “The list of occupations that fir [sic] well with doing the double are probably endless, and yet their combined income from JSA and job is rarely above the average wage. These people are vicitms, not cheats.”

    Do you suppose it would actually be possible for everyone to earn more than the average?

    If not, what is the correct number of people who should earn below the average income?

    And whom we should forgive, therefore, for criminal fraud?

  • Anon E Mouse

    Chris – Well excuse me you New Labour lickspittle. The fact is your man – the hopeless dud, Ed Miliband, cheated to get his position and is a complete waste of space.

    There is nothing worse than a tax avoiding property multi millionaire lecturing to people about how they should luve their lives whilst not doing it themselves.

    I hate hypocrites. Being a Labour supporter you obviously don’t Chris but the sooner you just roll over and start voting for the Lib Dem’s the better. There is mo party more “progressive” than those guys and their door is always open.

    Even for individuals of clearly limited intelligence like yourself Chris…

  • Anon E Mouse

    Chris – Zeek. Zeek…..

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  • Chris

    @boring mouse

    There is absolutely nothing interesting, insightful, on topic or even mildly amusing in your comments mouse, why bother?

    “Even for individuals of clearly limited intelligence like yourself Chris…”

    Yawn, and you’re clearly a genius…working for below NMW re-installing windows.

  • http://don'thaveone Statyk

    @ Mouse and Chris

    Awwww, do you feel like you’re in parliment? You get to slate each other without actually trying to find a way around your differences and finding away forward. Isn’t politics meant to be about discourse and finding solutions, oh, hang on, no, it’s about scoring points because ‘YOU SMELL!!’ and ‘YOU”VE GOT A BIG NOSE!!!’ Grow up, please, or we’re all in trouble….

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  • Anon E Mouse

    Chris – You are STILL not answering the question, call it the elephant in the room but it’s still the same.

    Since that useless dud, the man on borrowed time, Ed Miliband says he want’s to shift Labour to the left then I think my comments are entirely relevant.


    I just think that the sooner Labour ditch this tax avoiding, property millionaire, never worked a single day in his life, union cheating party leader the better.

    Everyone reading this blog – you know the ones who said Gordon Brown was a good thing – don’t seem to be leaping up in support of this weird loser now do they Chris?

    It’s time to move on….

  • Anon E Mouse

    Statyk – Chris is a typical New Labour smear merchant who doesn’t have any arguments to make and just acts rudely in public forums.

    It’s why I will not lower myself to be personally insulting like he is – he represents all that is bad on the left I’m afraid…

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