"All Thatcherites now"? Not us, say the voters

A new YouGov poll shows voters reject policies including the sell off of council housing, the privatisation of public utilities and prioritising inflation over employment.

"We're all Thatcherites now," declared David Cameron yesterday, implying that the former prime minister's values had become the nation's. But YouGov's new poll on her reforms suggests the voters take a more nuanced view than Cameron's narrative allows.

It is true, as Cameron said, that some "big arguments" have been permanently resolved in the right's favour. Asked whether a "stronger and more influential trade union movement would be a good thing for Britain", just 34 per cent said it would and 45 per cent said it would not. By a similar margin - 52 per cent to 27 per cent - the public agree that "companies and industries that are not competitive or profitable should be allowed to close", even if this means job losses, rather than receiving government subsidy.

The voters also overwhelmingly reject one of the policies that featured in Labour's 1983 "suicide note": unilateral nuclear disarmament. Asked whether Britain should "maintain its nuclear deterrent" or whether it is "no longer necessary for Britain to have its own nuclear weapons", 59 per cent said the former and just 26 per cent the latter. Finally, on deregulation, by 45 per cent to 40 per cent, voters agree that businesses work best when free to grow "without government interference", rather than when "strongly regulated to protect the interests of their customers and workers". In his interview on the Today programme, Cameron argued that "no one wants to go back to trade unions that are undemocratic or one-sided nuclear disarmament or having great private sector businesses in the public sector" and, in these areas, the poll bears him out.

But more striking are those parts of Thatcher's legacy that the public now reject, including the totemic "right to buy". Only 42 per cent said that social and council housing tenants should be allowed to buy their homes, with a greater number (49 per cent) agreeing that social housing should be kept in public ownership for "future generations in need". The voters also take a sceptical view of another of Thatcher's emblematic policies - privatisation. A large majority - 61 per cent - believe that public utilities, such as energy and water, are "best run by the public sector", compared to 26 per cent who said they should be run by private companies. Ed Miliband has consistently rejected calls to renationalise the utility companies, largely on the grounds of cost, but expect to see this proposal pushed by the Labour left as the party's policy review continues.

The public also doesn't share Thatcher's narrow, monetarist focus on price control. Forty one per cent agreed that the government's economic priority should be to "keep down prices, inflation and government borrowing" but 49 per cent said that its priority should be "to protect jobs, ensure full employment and maintain spending power in the economy".

If it is clear, to paraphrase Thatcher, that few want to return to the days when the state ran Pickfords removals and the Gleneagles Hotel, it is also clear that most would like to see a more mixed economy, with the state intervening to provide affordable housing and utilities and to enable full employment. All of which suggests that the social democratic Ed Miliband may have a better grasp of the new centre ground than that son of Thatcher, Tony Blair.

A member of the crowd holds up a sign along the route of the procession during the ceremonial funeral of Margaret Thatcher. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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The big problem for the NHS? Local government cuts

Even a U-Turn on planned cuts to the service itself will still leave the NHS under heavy pressure. 

38Degrees has uncovered a series of grisly plans for the NHS over the coming years. Among the highlights: severe cuts to frontline services at the Midland Metropolitan Hospital, including but limited to the closure of its Accident and Emergency department. Elsewhere, one of three hospitals in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland are to be shuttered, while there will be cuts to acute services in Suffolk and North East Essex.

These cuts come despite an additional £8bn annual cash injection into the NHS, characterised as the bare minimum needed by Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England.

The cuts are outlined in draft sustainability and transformation plans (STP) that will be approved in October before kicking off a period of wider consultation.

The problem for the NHS is twofold: although its funding remains ringfenced, healthcare inflation means that in reality, the health service requires above-inflation increases to stand still. But the second, bigger problem aren’t cuts to the NHS but to the rest of government spending, particularly local government cuts.

That has seen more pressure on hospital beds as outpatients who require further non-emergency care have nowhere to go, increasing lifestyle problems as cash-strapped councils either close or increase prices at subsidised local authority gyms, build on green space to make the best out of Britain’s booming property market, and cut other corners to manage the growing backlog of devolved cuts.

All of which means even a bigger supply of cash for the NHS than the £8bn promised at the last election – even the bonanza pledged by Vote Leave in the referendum, in fact – will still find itself disappearing down the cracks left by cuts elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.