But what if people don’t blame Tories for public sector cuts?


by Sunny
22nd June, 2010 at 9:20 am    

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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  1. sunny hundal

    Blog post:: But what if people don't blame Tories for public sector cuts? http://bit.ly/dlW6SX


  2. thehooleys

    RT @sunny_hundal: Blog post:: But what if people don't blame Tories for public sector cuts? http://bit.ly/dlW6SX




  1. Adam Ramsay — on 22nd June, 2010 at 9:31 am  

    2 things,

    1) why do yout think any cuts in public spending/tax increases are a good idea now? I don’t understand why so many lefties are willing to accept the dubious premise that cutting spending will reduce the deficit in the long run – I think we should probably, over the next few years, gradually increase spending.

    2) I really don’t think we can tell what people will think based on what they said they wanted – those sorts of questions in polls never turn out to be accurate. I’m not saying you’re wrong, I just think that the evidence of those sorts of poll questions is irrelevant – “what would you think if” is not the sort of thing someone has considered until they get a phone call/email. Similarly, the economic impacts are unknown – someone may want cuts to public services in general, but if this has a multiplier effect and they lose their job, then they certainly don’t want it. It is of course possible that Labour will get the blame, and they certainly will for a bit, but I really don’t think we have much evidence either way yet.

    Interesting questions though.

  2. earwicga — on 22nd June, 2010 at 11:21 am  

    Thing is though Sunny, I do blame Labour. The Tories are pretty much following on Labour’s attacks on the poor. It Labour hadn’t done so much of the groundwork there would be limits to how much the tories could do today.

  3. halima — on 22nd June, 2010 at 12:26 pm  

    Interesting to see the US/Obama wade in and warn against excessive cuts to early in the recovery process ahead of the G20 meeting- and for the UK to say, thanks for the advice, but not thanks. It’s been un-precedented for the Americans to intervene with last minute caution – and even more shocking and unprecedented for the UK to ignore American advice. You have to wonder what is going on, there. Even the Chinese are doing the right thing this week with their currency appreciation. So, what are we doing?

  4. MaidMarian — on 22nd June, 2010 at 4:27 pm  

    earwicga – Could you perhaps give some examples of these, ‘attacks on the poor?’ One of Osbourne’s favourite soundbites in the past few days has been ‘runaway welfare spending.’ It sounds rather like Osbourne does not share your analysis.

    Sunny – interesting and good article. The question that is perhaps not being asked here is what exactly Labour were supposed to have done when the banks started to fold. I personally would have been pretty sanguine about letting banks fold with safeguards for depositors. But then I don’t have a mortgage/insurance/ISA etc with any of the banks in trouble. There is, of course, a very good argument to be had about bonus culture and the like, but I do feel that letting banks go under is far easier to say than to do. And, of course the Conservatives probably would not have done much different.

    In fact, the most politically sensitive cut is probably the one aimed at the second home brigade and I am surprised at how little comment there has been on that.

    Regardless – there is a difference between the public, ‘wanting,’ cuts and, ‘being persuaded of the need for,’ cuts. What would be dangerous for the government would be for the cuts to be perceived as political, rather than for the greater good. The bad reaction to Forgemasters not being given a loan because of Lib Dem anti-nuclear dogma is a pointer. Similarly, the protection for the NHS and DFID are pure politics and have attracted criticism.

    Cuts are one thing, politically motivated cuts are quite another. That has to be the starting point for any campaign.

  5. earwicga — on 22nd June, 2010 at 5:20 pm  
  6. Don — on 22nd June, 2010 at 6:15 pm  

    Well, I’ll blame the Tories even if no-one else does.

  7. MaidMarian — on 22nd June, 2010 at 6:51 pm  

    earwicga – The budget link, obviously is not from Labour. That first Act you link to is hardly an, ‘attack on the poor.’

  8. MixMatch — on 22nd June, 2010 at 7:28 pm  

    “the focus should remain on the state of the economy (which the Tories are trying to undermine)”

    I didn’t vote Tory or Labour, but I don’t believe the Tories are ‘trying to undermine the state of the economy’ anymore than I believe Labour was.

    Argue about competence, argue about the wisdom or fairness of policies, or even self-interest, by all means. But it’s not logical, even in the most self-interested way, for any government to set out deliberately to undermine the economy of the country it rules.

    The Tories will be aware, as would any party be, that while they can blame Labour to an extent, that will only hold true for a finite amount of time; and that if the economy gets worse and keeps getting worse, then that is hardly going to be a vote winner for them as party of government.

  9. MixMatch — on 22nd June, 2010 at 7:34 pm  

    The government have raised the personal tax allowance by £1,000. For those of us who are genuinely poor, and who don’t even earn half of the average national wage, this will make a real difference. In fact it looks like I may be lifted completely out of paying income tax this year. Yes, that’s how it really is for some us.

    I notice that has gone uncommented by those making noises about ‘attacks on the poor’. But then it’s a fair bet that none of them arte anywhere near that income bracket, and are actually comparatively cosy. Most of you have no idea.

  10. zak — on 22nd June, 2010 at 7:43 pm  

    i agree sunny there is almost a masochistic streak with regard to cuts amongst the public

  11. persephone — on 22nd June, 2010 at 8:52 pm  

    “The Tories are pretty much following on Labour’s attacks on the poor”

    Its not so much the genuine poor but filtering out welfare payouts to those who are professional welfare seekers. I think that is the type of remedial cost cutting that the public wants to see.

  12. Cauldron — on 22nd June, 2010 at 9:17 pm  

    @10 the perhaps the question Lefties should be asking is WHY this masochistic streak exists. I haven’t seen any polling on this but my guess is that the public is in favour of cuts because they perceive a lot of public spending to be wasteful or unfair.

    It’s going to be interesting to see if Labour chooses to paint itself as the defender of public sector workers, as opposed to the defender of public sector services. The Tories have set the trap.

  13. MaidMarian — on 22nd June, 2010 at 10:01 pm  

    Cauldron – You are forgetting that the tories have explicitly put a ringfence around the largest number of public sector staff – the NHS. There is no reason for this, but that is a story for another thread.

    The other section of public sector workers is the nationalised banks, I will be very interested to see what the tories say on that.

  14. MixMatch — on 22nd June, 2010 at 10:04 pm  

    “Some spending will have to be reduced, I think most people recognise that,”

    The problem is, Sunny, you and other critics won’t specify where. Even Labour acknowledged considerable spending cuts would have to be made, they just wanted to defer them.

    Unfortunately we have to navigate between the rock of cutting too severely – and thus stifling recovery – on the one hand and the hard place of not cutting sufficiently and thus running up more debt which we can’t pay and which increasingly won’t be able to get loans for. I didn’t vote for them and am not sure this government will get it right, but portraying them as making cuts simply in order to undermine the economy does not make sense.

    As a side point, I suspect part of the reason the public seem to be willing for there to be public sector cuts and freezes lies in a subject recently discussed here, namely the increasing authoritarianism of the state under the last government.

    It is surely not nurses and refuse collectors the public have it in for but, perhaps, the part of the public sector which has appeared to have increasingly intruded into people’s lives, being obstructive, penalising them, wagging their fingers at them, telling them to obey new regulations, and generally being unhelpful and sometimes absurd in their attitude to ‘serving’ rather than ordering about the public. They have acted like school monitors on acid.

    Most of the public have experienced some of that over the past decade, and while those category of people mentioned don’t by any means represent the bulk of the public sector, they do come from it almost alone and have grown like weeds within it in recent years. Many people who aren’t employed by the public sector – and probably many who do actually useful and helpful jobs within it – wouldn’t be sorry to see those weeds cut back somewhat.

  15. Cauldron — on 22nd June, 2010 at 10:18 pm  

    @13 I don’t disagree with your observations. Personally I think George could and should have cut harder without incurring any additional political flak. Imposing another year of windfall taxes on bankers’ bonuses and lifting CGT into the mid 30s would have provided the political cover to means test child benefit and take a tougher line on public sector pensions.

    @14 I’m not buying the Labour line about too-savage cuts jeopardising the recovery. In a closed or deflationary economy, maybe. But the danger of the world sinking into deflation seems to be pretty low at the moment. Labour are painting themselves into a corner. They’re going to look like pretty foolish wolf-criers if the economy avoids a double dip.

  16. MaidMarian — on 22nd June, 2010 at 10:25 pm  

    Cauldron – I don’t particularly disagree. But on pensions, there is a simple reform, and I have no idea why the government does not do the simple thing.

    Make the civil service and local government pensions like the excellent NHS and University ones. Higher contributions, proper funding, simple.

    As an aside here, if the private sector had run decent pensions or had been able to run well performing schemes we would have many fewer problems. Public sector pensions should not be used to mask private sector failure on this.

  17. Cauldron — on 22nd June, 2010 at 10:56 pm  

    MM – Indeed, private pension plans haven’t delivered what was planned. Although this is largely due to the lousiness of the actuarial profession rather than a damning indictment of capitalism in itself.

    In an ideal world, I would abolish all mandatory pensions and pension contributions, and just have some flat-rate safety net for old people. A humane society won’t let people starve, but why can’t people be otherwise trusted to make their own life choices between savings and consumption?

    Anyway, what’s more interesting at this point is the political reaction to the budget. I’m fervently hoping that the public sector unions go on strike and Labour keeps trying to airbrush history and claim that the deficit had nothing to do with them.

  18. Shuggy — on 23rd June, 2010 at 9:26 am  

    My point is that it’s dangerous to assume the cuts will be unpopular.

    Completely agree. That there is an ‘emergency’ that required a budget is now accepted largely without question, as is the idea that there needed to be deep spending cuts. One leftwing colleague of mine was talking about it purely in terms of what he personally like to cut. “EMA? I’d get rid of it tomorrow.” And that’s from a teacher…

  19. MaidMarian — on 23rd June, 2010 at 10:38 am  

    Cauldron – ‘Labour keeps trying to airbrush history and claim that the deficit had nothing to do with them.’

    Again, point taken. But it was interesting yesterday to note how Osbourne, who spent much of the election saying that the recession and global conditions were separate, now happily talks about global factors affecting the UK economy.

    And this is not to mention that a Conservative government would almost certainly have bailed out the banks too.

  20. Jemmy Hope — on 1st July, 2010 at 4:08 pm  

    Mervyn King has said that whoever won the recent election and imposed the necessary cuts would make themselves unelectable for some time after. It seems that Cameron is going to try to wind up the Afghanistan fiasco just before the next election and regain some goodwill from that ploy.

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