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.

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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.

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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".

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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.

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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.

Photo: Getty
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Theresa May is paying the price for mismanaging Boris Johnson

The Foreign Secretary's bruised ego may end up destroying Theresa May. 

And to think that Theresa May scheduled her big speech for this Friday to make sure that Conservative party conference wouldn’t be dominated by the matter of Brexit. Now, thanks to Boris Johnson, it won’t just be her conference, but Labour’s, which is overshadowed by Brexit in general and Tory in-fighting in particular. (One imagines that the Labour leadership will find a way to cope somehow.)

May is paying the price for mismanaging Johnson during her period of political hegemony after she became leader. After he was betrayed by Michael Gove and lacking any particular faction in the parliamentary party, she brought him back from the brink of political death by making him Foreign Secretary, but also used her strength and his weakness to shrink his empire.

The Foreign Office had its responsibility for negotiating Brexit hived off to the newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu) and for navigating post-Brexit trade deals to the Department of International Trade. Johnson was given control of one of the great offices of state, but with no responsibility at all for the greatest foreign policy challenge since the Second World War.

Adding to his discomfort, the new Foreign Secretary was regularly the subject of jokes from the Prime Minister and cabinet colleagues. May likened him to a dog that had to be put down. Philip Hammond quipped about him during his joke-fuelled 2017 Budget. All of which gave Johnson’s allies the impression that Johnson-hunting was a licensed sport as far as Downing Street was concerned. He was then shut out of the election campaign and has continued to be a marginalised figure even as the disappointing election result forced May to involve the wider cabinet in policymaking.

His sense of exclusion from the discussions around May’s Florence speech only added to his sense of isolation. May forgot that if you aren’t going to kill, don’t wound: now, thanks to her lost majority, she can’t afford to put any of the Brexiteers out in the cold, and Johnson is once again where he wants to be: centre-stage. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.