What do the British really think about society?

A breakdown of results of the British Social Attitudes Survey

The British Social Attitudes Survey, carried out by the National Centre for Social Research, was published today. Much of the press coverage points to an apparent duality in the results: for the first time in 20 years, a majority of people identify themselves as Conservatives, yet the public is more tolerant and socially liberal.

Here is a breakdown of the most interesting findings:

A nation of Conservatives?

Thirty-two per cent of people identified themselves as Conservative, while 27 per cent identified with Labour. This reverses the findings of the survey a year earlier, when 25 per cent identified as Conservative and 34 per cent with Labour. This is the first time the Tories have been in the lead since the 1989 survey.

Public spending

The change is certainly reflected in opinions on public spending: 39 per cent of people supported increased taxes and spending on health and education -- the lowest level since 1984, and down from 63 per cent in 2002. Just 38 per cent thought that the government should redistribute income from the wealthy to the poor, down from 51 per cent in 1994.

The electorate's views appear to have been shaped by the centrist legacy of New Labour, with the largest majority -- 50 per cent -- believing that spending and taxation levels should stay as they are. A decade of Labour government has, paradoxically, pushed public opinion to the right.

Political disillusionment

The widespread disillusionment with the political system was reflected in the survey. Fifty-six per cent of those questioned thought it was "everyone's duty to vote", down from 68 per cent in 1991. Among the under-35s, the number fell further to 41 per cent.

Thirty-two per cent of people said they had "not much interest" or "no interest" in politics, while 18 per cent said that it is not really worth voting (up from 12 per cent in 2005).

Social attitudes

Thirty-six per cent of people thought homosexual acts were "always or mostly wrong", down from 62 per cent in 1983. A larger proportion of people -- 39 per cent -- felt it was "not wrong at all". This represents a huge leap, up from just 14 per cent in 1989.

There was also evidence that attitudes to the family are relaxing. Forty-five per cent said it made "no difference" whether a child's parents were married or just living together, up from 38 per cent in 1998. Thirty-eight per cent of Britons still disapprove of mothers working full-time when they have young children. This changes when children reach school age; 52 per cent think a lone mother with a school-aged child has a "special duty" to work to support her child, up from 44 per cent in 1998.

Drugs and cigarettes

There was evidence here that government policy has had some effect. Views on cannabis have hardened, probably as a result of raised awareness of its risks: 58 per cent felt it should be illegal, compared with just 46 per cent in 2001.

Support for the smoking ban has also grown, despite fears of a backlash. In Scotland, where the measure was first introduced, its popularity has doubled since 2004, when it stood at 25 per cent. Fifty-three per cent now support it.

 

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Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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After a year of chaos, MPs from all parties are trying to stop an extreme Brexit

The Greens are calling for a cross-party commission on Brexit.

One year ago today, I stood on Westminster Bridge as the sun rose over a changed country. By a narrow margin, on an unexpectedly high turnout, a majority of people in Britain had chosen to leave the EU. It wasn’t easy for those of us on the losing side – especially after such scaremongering from the leaders of the Leave campaign – but 23 June 2016 showed the power of a voting opportunity where every vote counted.

A year on from the vote, and the process is in chaos. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. The Leave campaign deliberately never spelled out any detailed plan for Brexit, and senior figures fought internal battles over which model they preferred. One minute Britain would be like Norway, then we’d be like Canada – and then we’d be unique. After the vote Theresa May promised us a "Red, White and Blue Brexit" – and then her ministers kept threatening the EU with walking away with no deal at all which, in fairness, would be unique(ly) reckless. 

We now have our future being negotiated by a government who have just had their majority wiped out. More than half of voters opted for progressive parties at the last election – yet the people representing us in Brussels are the right-wing hardliners David Davis, Liam Fox and Boris Johnson.

Despite widespread opposition, the government has steadfastly refused to unilaterally guarantee EU citizens their rights. This week it has shown its disregard for the environment as it published a Queen’s Speech with no specific plans for environmental protection in the Brexit process either. 

Amid such chaos there is, however, a glimmer of hope. MPs from all parties are working together to stop an extreme Brexit. Labour’s position seems to be softening, and it looks likely that the Scottish Parliament will have a say on the final deal too. The Democratic Unionist Party is regressive in many ways, but there’s a good chance that the government relying on it will soften Brexit for Northern Ireland, at least because of the DUP's insistence on keeping the border with Ireland open. My amendments to the Queen’s speech to give full rights to EU nationals and create an Environmental Protection Act have cross-party support.

With such political instability here at home – and a growing sense among the public that people deserve a final say on any deal - it seems that everything is up for grabs. The government has no mandate for pushing ahead with an extreme Brexit. As the democratic reformers Unlock Democracy said in a recent report “The failure of any party to gain a majority in the recent election has made the need for an inclusive, consensus based working even more imperative.” The referendum should have been the start of a democratic process, not the end of one.

That’s why Greens are calling for a cross-party commission on Brexit, in order to ensure that voices from across the political spectrum are heard in the process. And it’s why we continue to push for a ratification referendum on the final deal negotiated by the government - we want the whole country to have the last word on this, not just the 650 MPs elected to the Parliament via an extremely unrepresentative electoral system.

No one predicted what would happen over the last year. From the referendum, to Theresa May’s disastrous leadership and a progressive majority at a general election. And no one knows exactly what will happen next. But what’s clear is that people across this country should be at the centre of the coming debate over our future – it can’t be stitched up behind closed doors by ministers without a mandate.

Caroline Lucas is the MP for Brighton Pavilion.

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