How unpopular are the cuts now?

Voters think the cuts are unfair and bad for the economy. But they still blame Labour.

Tomorrow's anti-cuts demonstration in London, which is likely to be the largest protest in the capital since the anti-war march in 2003, is an important political moment. George Osborne won't be blown off course by one demonstration, but the march, provided it's peaceful, should reinforce the sense that the government is losing the argument.

So, ahead of tomorrow's demonstration, here's a summary of where the public stands on the cuts.

The public thinks the cuts are unfair

Despite Osborne's attempts to present his programme as "progressive", the government lost the fairness argument almost immediately. In June, 37 per cent thought the cuts were fair and 33 per cent thought they weren't.

But by September, just 30 per cent thought they were fair and 50 per cent thought they were unfair. Now, only 26 per cent think the cuts are fair and 60 per cent think they are unfair.

The voters are, of course, entirely right to think that the cuts are unfair. As the Institute for Fiscal Studies has repeatedly demonstrated, the coalition's austerity measures hit the poorest hardest.


Source: YouGov

And bad for the economy

It's a similar story on the economy. At the time of Osborne's emergency Budget in June, 47 per cent thought the cuts would be good for the economy and 30 per cent thought they would be bad. By September, public opinion had switched sides and hasn't changed since. Following January's VAT rise and the grim news that the economy shrank by 0.6 per cent in the final quarter of 2010, the gap widened significantly.

For now, a toxic combination of lower growth, higher inflation and higher unemployment means the coalition has little hope of winning this argument.


Source: YouGov

But they still think (some) cuts are necessary

YouGov has only recently started asking its panel if they think the cuts are necessary and the results are revealing. The majority of voters – 55 per cent – believe that the cuts are necessary, against 32 per cent who they think they are unnecessary.

Unfortunately for the coalition, this shouldn't be interpreted as an endorsement of their approach. Polling by YouGov also shows that the public opposes both the speed and the scale of the cuts. The most recent poll (20-21 March) found that 49 per cent think the cuts are too deep (6 per cent think they are too shallow and 27 per cent think they are "about right") and that 57 per cent think they are too fast (5 per cent think they are too slow and 27 per cent think they are "about right).

So while it's clear that the public, like Labour, agrees that some cuts are necessary to reduce Britain's £146bn deficit, people also believe that the coalition is going "too far and too fast".


Source: YouGov

And they still blame Labour

Too fast, too steep, unfair and bad for the economy. It might look like the coalition has lost the argument on every front. But Osborne continues to derive comfort from the fact that more people blame Labour for the cuts than the government.


Source: YouGov

The most recent YouGov poll showed that 38 per cent blame Labour, 23 per cent blame the coalition and 26 per cent blame both (surely the most sensible answer). Labour has made up some ground since June, when 49 per cent blamed them for the cuts, and public opinion is moving in the right direction for it.

But when Ed Balls recently admitted that his party was "behind on the argument on the deficit" this was undoubtedly the rating he had in mind. Labour might have led in every voting intention poll since January, but so long as voters continue to blame Labour, rather than the coalition, for the cuts, the Tories have every reason to remain hopeful.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The 11 things we know after the Brexit plan debate

Labour may just have fallen into a trap. 

On Wednesday, both Labour and Tory MPs filed out of the Commons together to back a motion calling on the Prime Minister to commit to publish the government’s Brexit plan before Article 50 is triggered in March 2017. 

The motion was proposed by Labour, but the government agreed to back it after inserting its own amendment calling on MPs to “respect the wishes of the United Kingdom” and adhere to the original timetable. 

With questions on everything from the customs union to the Northern Irish border, it is clear that the Brexit minister David Davis will have a busy Christmas. Meanwhile, his declared intention to stay schtum about the meat of Brexit negotiations for now means the nation has been hanging off every titbit of news, including a snapped memo reading “have cake and eat it”. 

So, with confusion abounding, here is what we know from the Brexit plan debate: 

1. The government will set out a Brexit plan before triggering Article 50

The Brexit minister David Davis said that Parliament will get to hear the government’s “strategic plans” ahead of triggering Article 50, but that this will not include anything that will “jeopardise our negotiating position”. 

While this is something of a victory for the Remain MPs and the Opposition, the devil is in the detail. For example, this could still mean anything from a white paper to a brief description released days before the March deadline.

2. Parliament will get a say on converting EU law into UK law

Davis repeated that the Great Repeal Bill, which scraps the European Communities Act 1972, will be presented to the Commons during the two-year period following Article 50.

He said: “After that there will be a series of consequential legislative measures, some primary, some secondary, and on every measure the House will have a vote and say.”

In other words, MPs will get to debate how existing EU law is converted to UK law. But, crucially, that isn’t the same as getting to debate the trade negotiations. And the crucial trade-off between access to the single market versus freedom of movement is likely to be decided there. 

3. Parliament is almost sure to get a final vote on the Brexit deal

The European Parliament is expected to vote on the final Brexit deal, which means the government accepts it also needs parliamentary approval. Davis said: “It is inconceivable to me that if the European Parliament has a vote, this House does not.”

Davis also pledged to keep MPs as well-informed as MEPs will be.

However, as shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer pointed out to The New Statesman, this could still leave MPs facing the choice of passing a Brexit deal they disagree with or plunging into a post-EU abyss. 

4. The government still plans to trigger Article 50 in March

With German and French elections planned for 2017, Labour MP Geraint Davies asked if there was any point triggering Article 50 before the autumn. 

But Davis said there were 15 elections scheduled during the negotiation process, so such kind of delay was “simply not possible”. 

5. Themed debates are a clue to Brexit priorities

One way to get a measure of the government’s priorities is the themed debates it is holding on various areas covered by EU law, including two already held on workers’ rights and transport.  

Davis mentioned themed debates as a key way his department would be held to account. 

It's not exactly disclosure, but it is one step better than relying on a camera man papping advisers as they walk into No.10 with their notes on show. 

6. The immigration policy is likely to focus on unskilled migrants

At the Tory party conference, Theresa May hinted at a draconian immigration policy that had little time for “citizens of the world”, while Davis said the “clear message” from the Brexit vote was “control immigration”.

He struck a softer tone in the debate, saying: “Free movement of people cannot continue as it is now, but this will not mean pulling up the drawbridge.”

The government would try to win “the global battle for talent”, he added. If the government intends to stick to its migration target and, as this suggests, will keep the criteria for skilled immigrants flexible, the main target for a clampdown is clearly unskilled labour.  

7. The government is still trying to stay in the customs union

Pressed about the customs union by Anna Soubry, the outspoken Tory backbencher, Davis said the government is looking at “several options”. This includes Norway, which is in the single market but not the customs union, and Switzerland, which is in neither but has a customs agreement. 

(For what it's worth, the EU describes this as "a series of bilateral agreements where Switzerland has agreed to take on certain aspects of EU legislation in exchange for accessing the EU's single market". It also notes that Swiss exports to the EU are focused on a few sectors, like chemicals, machinery and, yes, watches.)

8. The government wants the status quo on security

Davis said that on security and law enforcement “our aim is to preserve the current relationship as best we can”. 

He said there is a “clear mutual interest in continued co-operation” and signalled a willingness for the UK to pitch in to ensure Europe is secure across borders. 

One of the big tests for this commitment will be if the government opts into Europol legislation which comes into force next year.

9. The Chancellor is wooing industries

Robin Walker, the under-secretary for Brexit, said Philip Hammond and Brexit ministers were meeting organisations in the City, and had also met representatives from the aerospace, energy, farming, chemicals, car manufacturing and tourism industries. 

However, Labour has already attacked the government for playing favourites with its secretive Nissan deal. Brexit ministers have a fine line to walk between diplomacy and what looks like a bribe. 

10. Devolved administrations are causing trouble

A meeting with leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland ended badly, with the First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon publicly declaring it “deeply frustrating”. The Scottish government has since ramped up its attempts to block Brexit in the courts. 

Walker took a more conciliatory tone, saying that the PM was “committed to full engagement with the devolved administrations” and said he undertook the task of “listening to the concerns” of their representatives. 

11. Remain MPs may have just voted for a trap

Those MPs backing Remain were divided on whether to back the debate with the government’s amendment, with the Green co-leader Caroline Lucas calling it “the Tories’ trap”.

She argued that it meant signing up to invoking Article 50 by March, and imposing a “tight timetable” and “arbitrary deadline”, all for a vaguely-worded Brexit plan. In the end, Lucas was one of the Remainers who voted against the motion, along with the SNP. 

George agrees – you can read his analysis of the Brexit trap here

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.