I visited this topic yesterday and I’m going to go further with this a bit. Like most of my lefty colleagues, I don’t want public services cut massively. Some spending will have to be reduced, I think most people recognise that, but the bulk of the budget deficit shortfall should be made up through progressive tax-rises in my view (not VAT).
But many of my lefty colleagues (on Twitter and yesterday’s LibCon thread) are saying that once the Tory cuts kick in, the public will turn against them. And that will make them unpopular again. I disagree.
I think the Tories already saw that coming. So they decided that the best strategy was to overplay the debt crisis. It’s classic expectations management. With the economy supposedly on the brink, they can argue that the cuts were necessary to stabilise the economy. They make themselves sound prudent while conveniently blaming their ideologically driven cuts on Labour.
So my point is this. What if, 3-4 years from now, when public service cut start affecting people, they carry on believing the drastic cuts were Labour’s fault? That is certainly what the Tories will carry on arguing relentlessly. Stuart White suggests we collect stories of people being affected and make them the narrative. It’s a great idea. And if we can capture some hard-hitting stories that make the media narrative, the Tories will be on the back foot.
But they might empathise with how people are being affected, but still blame Labour. Remember, they don’t think as ideologically as we do. This is already the case.
My feeling is that while public service cuts speak to the base – they don’t translate well across everything. As Krishnan Guru-Murthy told me yesterday, the public actually want cuts. “They seemed to relish it” – he adds. The NHS is the only sacred cow.
My point is that it’s dangerous to assume the cuts will be unpopular. The Tories were elected on a promise of massive cuts. The public expects them. Secondly, it’s dangerous to assume that even if people are hurt by the cuts, that they’ll blame the Tories. Sure, this might change when it actually hurts them. But these are still dangerous assumptions not borne out by the polling.
My view is that the focus should remain on the state of the economy (which the Tories are trying to undermine) and unemployment (which will increase). That would annoy Middle-England much more than simply cuts.
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