Tuesday, 21 September 2010
The tide turns? Public attitudes to the cuts
An opinion poll conducted immediately afterwards - on the evening of budget day (22 June) and on the following day - was fairly encouraging to the government and its media cheerleaders. It found 53% considered the ConDem spending plans 'good for the economy', with only 28% saying they were 'bad for the economy'.
Such poll findings prompted a fair amount of gloom on the left - I heard people commenting that the majority of people support the cuts, the government is overwhelmingly winning the arguments, and there's no hope for opponents of the cuts until after October's comprehensive spending review.
In fact we don't need to wait until then - there's already been a significant shift in public opinion. That's without any decisive and clear opposition from the Labour leadership, although one commentator bizarrely credits the Labour front bench with the change in views (have I missed something?), or a mass movement on the streets (yet). And, of course, it's before the spending review, widely expected to turn some people against the cuts.
The new figures are 40% saying 'good' and 43% saying 'bad'. A net result of +25% has turned into a net result of -3%. In just 3 months that is an astonishing change. As the incoming government's honeymoon fades, the reality of savage cuts begins to dawn and our side increasingly gets organised, this is likely to shift further against Cameron, Osborne and friends.
This represents a turning of the tide. Go back over a year. In June 2009 only 40% agreed with the statement 'There is a real need to cut spending on public services in order to pay off the very high national debt we now have'. 51% disagreed with this 'real need to cut spending'.
By a year later - June 2010 - that 40% in support had worryingly become 58%, while only 35% disagreed with the view. The Tories had clearly persuaded many people to at least reluctantly accept cuts.
But the latest polls indicate a major - and, for the left, extremely welcome - end to this trend. We have reasons to be hopeful.
Anti-cuts activists have two key tasks. One is to continue pushing the ideas and arguments which undermine support for (or acceptance of) the cuts agenda, dissecting the dominant myths about the supposed 'need' for drastic cuts and offering alternative demands. The climate of opinion is already shifting - we now need to turn the ideological debate decisively in our favour.
The other key challenge is to turn disquiet about cuts - which can only increase - into active political opposition. We have to get organised. We need public meetings, local protests, demonstrations and strikes.
The Right to Work demonstration at the Tory conference (3 October) and the Coalition of Resistance's protest at Downing Street (20 October) are two opportunities to mobilise against the assault on welfare and public services.