John Rentoul draws attention to a new ComRes poll that goes some way towards explaining George Osborne’s predicament when it comes to managing government finances. Put simply, the public is not interested in public spending cuts. On the contrary, British voters want to see public spending increase.
Sure, they might agree that, all things being equal and in the broader scheme of matters, it might be a good idea if the government balanced the books but all things are rarely equal and as soon as you get into the narrow, particular view of these matters it becomes clear that, actually, the only departmental budget voters want to decimate is that small portion of government spending devoted to foreign aid. Even then, 24% of respondents say they’d like to at least keep the international aid budget at current levels.
In other areas almost no-one says they want to cut the NHS budget (5%), Education (7%), Police (9%). More surprisingly, only 27% of those responding to this poll wish to cut spending on welfare. Some 43% think the Chancellor should increase the welfare budget.
As Mr Rentoul observes, perhaps some people are aware that the state pension is the largest component of Iain Duncan Smith’s spending but, like him, I fancy most people view ‘”welfare” as shorthand for out-of-work benefits for people with their blinds down.’ So this may be another area in which talking about reforms – however well-intentioned they may be – may make implementing those reforms more difficult. The more attention any given department receives, the harder it is for the minister responsible to persuade the public that his plans are necessary, worthwhile, fair and workable.
Or, to put it another way, just making the argument makes it harder to win the argument.
Not that other spending cuts are popular either.