"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.

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The SNP thinks it knows how to kill hard Brexit

The Supreme Court ruled MPs must have a say in triggering Article 50. But the opposition must unite to succeed. 

For a few minutes on Tuesday morning, the crowd in the Supreme Court listened as the verdict was read out. Parliament must have the right to authorise the triggering of Article 50. The devolved nations would not get a veto. 

There was a moment of silence. And then the opponents of hard Brexit hit the phones. 

For the Scottish government, the pro-Remain members of the Welsh Assembly and Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland, the victory was bittersweet. 

The ruling prompted Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, to ask: “Is it better that we take our future into our own hands?”

Ever the pragmatist, though, Sturgeon has simultaneously released her Westminster attack dogs. 

Within minutes of the ruling, the SNP had vowed to put forward 50 amendments (see what they did there) to UK government legislation before Article 50 is enacted. 

This includes the demand for a Brexit white paper – shared by MPs from all parties – to a clause designed to prevent the UK reverting to World Trade Organisation rules if a deal is not agreed. 

But with Labour planning to approve the triggering of Article 50, can the SNP cause havoc with the government’s plans, or will it simply be a chorus of disapproval in the rest of Parliament’s ear?

The SNP can expect some support. Individual SNP MPs have already successfully worked with Labour MPs on issues such as benefit cuts. Pro-Remain Labour backbenchers opposed to Article 50 will not rule out “holding hands with the devil to cross the bridge”, as one insider put it. The sole Green MP, Caroline Lucas, will consider backing SNP amendments she agrees with as well as tabling her own. 

But meanwhile, other opposition parties are seeking their own amendments. Jeremy Corbyn said Labour will seek amendments to stop the Conservatives turning the UK “into a bargain basement tax haven” and is demanding tariff-free access to the EU. 

Separately, the Liberal Democrats are seeking three main amendments – single market membership, rights for EU nationals and a referendum on the deal, which is a “red line”.

Meanwhile, pro-Remain Tory backbenchers are watching their leadership closely to decide how far to stray from the party line. 

But if the Article 50 ruling has woken Parliament up, the initial reaction has been chaotic rather than collaborative. Despite the Lib Dems’ position as the most UK-wide anti-Brexit voice, neither the SNP nor Labour managed to co-ordinate with them. 

Indeed, the Lib Dems look set to vote against Labour’s tariff-free amendment on the grounds it is not good enough, while expecting Labour to vote against their demand of membership of the single market. 

The question for all opposition parties is whether they can find enough amendments to agree on to force the government onto the defensive. Otherwise, this defeat for the government is hardly a defeat at all. 

 

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.