Public turned off “age of austerity”

A poll shows voters think shielding services is more important than reducing the deficit. The findings are a blow to the Conservative's "age of austerity" message.

A PoliticsHome poll has found that British voters think that shielding services is more important than reducing the budget deficit. The findings will be seen as a further blow to the Conservative party’s economic message about the “age of austerity“.

Politics Home interviewed 1,082 voters over the weekend who were “asked to say whether their greater worry about the next government was that it would cut public spending too deeply, or that it would fail to reduce the budget deficit quickly enough.” The website found:

“Forty per cent of people were more concerned that state services would be cut back too deeply. Meanwhile, only twenty five per cent said that their greater fear was that the deficit would not be tackled with sufficient speed.”

Floating voters were particularly sceptical about prioritising paying back the deficit quickly. According to Politics Home:

“Only sixteen per cent were more worried that debt reduction would be too slow. Meanwhile, more than double – thirty six per cent – are more concerned about the effect of a spending squeeze on public services.”

The finding corroborates polling by Ipsos-MORI last year which found that the public disagree by 48 per cent to 21 per cent that too much is spent on public services. Ipsos-MORI’s CEO Ben Page told Left Foot Forward last year:

“The public are not convinced that there will need to be massive cuts in front line services in order to balance the books. In fact, 50 per cent deny that the debt situation needs addressing in that way.”

Other surveys covered by Left Foot Forward show that, when pushed on bringing down the deficit, the public is split on tax rises versus spending cuts while another poll showed that 60 per cent favour tax increases to help close the budget deficit.

Rachel Reeves, Labour’s PPC for Leeds West and a leading left-wing economist, told Left Foot Forward:

“People want more than an age of austerity. We are one of the richest countries in the world with fantastic people and businesses. The age of austerity that Cameron and Osborne prescribe once again seeks to talk Britain down. It’s not surprising that voters are turned off.”

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27 Responses to “Public turned off “age of austerity””

  1. Clifford Singer

    Another issue is the gap between asking people about cuts as an abstract question (which can seem more appealing) and the opposition that invariably results when those cuts are realised – be it cutting Sure Start, A&E depts or BBC 6Music.

  2. paulstpancras

    RT @leftfootfwd: Public turned off "age of austerity"

  3. Clifford Singer

    RT @leftfootfwd Public turned off "age of austerity"

  4. David Wearing

    RT @leftfootfwd: Public turned off "age of austerity"

  5. Kasch Wilder

    RT @leftfootfwd: Public turned off "age of austerity"

  6. James Plunkett

    Good stuff from @wdjstraw – reminding us public don't want "age of austerity" when it comes to public services –

  7. Duncan McAlister

    So your blog is still taking the line that ‘the deficit doesn’t matter’? Even Labour now accepts that this is no longer the case. Bury your heads in the sand at your peril.

  8. Will Straw

    Will Straw

    No, Duncan. The debate is about how and when. We say later (ie when the recovery has bedded in) and with a greater focus on tax rises. This is a difficult debate but the Tories’ “age of austerity” is neither a sensible economic nor political argument.

  9. Francis Urquhart

    What recovery? The meagre 0.3% increase in GDP was only concocted because Labour revised down the GDP figures for the previous quarters – showing that Britain was, in fact, in its worst economic depression since the ’30s. If anything, this “recovery” is largely smoke and mirrors.

    In any case, this poll reflects the extent of Labour’s scaremongering amongst the public and the fact that they refuse to face reality. Britain is practically bankrupt. Cuts need to be made. Everyone has to share its burden, whether through tax rises or spending cuts. Private sector workers are now paid less on average than the public sector. Private sector workers do not enjoy the benefits of gold-plated final salary pensions, largely the result of Brown’s disastrous raid on pension funds. People need to face facts, and realise that wider economic recovery needs real change and a move away from Labour’s debt-fuelled binge.

  10. Liz McShane


    As Polly Toynbee commented last night at a public meeting at Westminster on Conservative Economic Policy (or rather the lack of…) about cutting public expenditure, she asked:

    “who would you prefer? – “a butcher (aka the tories) or a surgeon (Labour)”.

  11. Liz McShane

    Duncan – this is worth a read:

  12. alanj

    For a serious discussion about the deficit – beyond the crassness of what we’re getting from Labour acolytes (including, unfortunately, on this blog) – I recommend Willem Buiter’s piece in today’s FT. He’s ex-MPC, now Citi chief economist, and has been among the most accurate and credible commentators throughout the financial crisis. His article’s about why sterling sinks when the prospect of outright Conservative victory becomes less likely. For example:

    ‘Unfortunately, thanks to a decade of fiscal mismanagement, the British government has little credibility. Public finances during the last boom are the obvious guide to expectations about the likely future fiscal behaviour of a Labour government. The cynical manipulation of Gordon Brown’s “golden rule” (over the economic cycle borrowing only to invest) and the decision to jettison it and the sustainable investment rule (net debt not to exceed 40 per cent of GDP) as soon as they threatened to become binding constraints will cause the markets to act like St Thomas towards promises of future fiscal tightening: seeing is believing.’

    If anybody who knows anything about fiscal policy over the past 8 years or the bond markets disagrees with that, I’d be interested to know why.

    Contrary to what Polly Toynbee, not a noted economic commentator, says, the choice is not whether we have nice cuts or nasty cuts. It’s between nasty cuts (and/or tax rises) and even nastier cuts forced on us by our increasingly powerful creditors. I almost hope that Labour is brazenly lying to the electorate (as it has so often) in pretending its post-election fiscal policy would be materially different from the Tories’, as at least that means they are potentially competent rather than fundamentally deluded.

  13. Liz McShane

    Alan J – How do you view David Blanchflower – also an ex MPC member who is a strong & vocal advocate against cutting public expenditure?

    You just have to scratch the surface of the Tory veneer to see that their policies – fiscal or otherwise or radically different to Labour’s – with the major difference being towards the public sector.

  14. alanj

    Liz – I think what Blanchflower emphasizes too little (and what Buiter and no doubt Mervyn King, whenever he pretty much openly castigates the government about its fiscal policy, have more of an eye on) is what is possible, given that we are perilously reliant on lenders to finance our deficits. Maybe it’s right that we don’t need significant spending cuts in 2010/11 because cuts would tip us into recession and so the market will continue to finance the deficit – I think everybody (including, as I understand it, the Tory leadership) are fine with that. But what we most certainly do need is a credible plan to cut the deficit. Labour haven’t provided that, they’ve just provided a commitment to cut the deficit and a timetable. They either don’t have a credible plan (which seems to be what the markets think, and I wouldn’t blame them) or they do but they’re hiding it, and lying about the scale of cuts/ tax rises they’re planning just to be able to distinguish themselves from the Tories before the election.

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  16. Fab 5: Tuesday 3 March 2010 | The Young Fabians Blog

    […] Will Straw of Left Foot Forward blogs about a poll which suggests the public prefer protecting front-line services over “age of austerity” cuts. […]

  17. Graeme Kemp

    Then Labour should sell its programme as the Age of Investment – and act accordingly. Rejecting immediate cuts (as the Tories want) is vital.

  18. Liz McShane

    Graeme – what a great, positive phrase ‘Age of Investment’ i like and it clearly presents the stark choice between labour & the tories

  19. Duncan McAlister

    Firstly Liz – the author of your link says that sterling would rebound once the recovery was underway, ‘as night follows day’. Well there is a weak recovery and sterling is at a ten-month low.

    Another thought – at the time of the financial crisis Australia was in surplus. It was thus able to put together a genuine stimulus package to AVOID a recession. Thank John Howard for that! His sensible management of the budget meant they were in a far better position to ride out the recession. Our existing debt put us at a disadvantage straight away and the so-called ‘stimulus’ was mainly used to buy up bonds, rather than the kind of stimulus that Keynesians like to think of (new rail links, bridges, stadiums etc). So much for Britain being ‘best placed’ to ride out the recession then.

  20. Web links for 3rd March 2010 | ToUChstone blog: A public policy blog from the TUC

    […] Left Foot Forwards: Public turned off by ‘age of austerity’ Forty per cent of people were more concerned that state services would be cut back too deeply. Meanwhile, only twenty five per cent said that their greater fear was that the deficit would not be tackled with sufficient speed. Related posts (automatically generated):Jobs, justice, climate: why we’re marching on 28 MarchOn the march with the voucher armyThe people on the march […]

  21. Robin Hood

    'Public turned off by age of austerity': Robin Hood Tax could be a source as a revenue. A turn on?130,000 think so #RHT

  22. Robin Hood

    'Public turned off by age of austerity': Robin Hood Tax could be a source of revenue. A turn on?130,000 think so #RHT

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  26. Oxfam Scotland

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    […] the political and media classes. It’s true. People see what’s coming. More people are frightened of deep cuts than are worried about the deficit. They should be frightened. The level of public sector cuts […]

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