Does this mean it’s time to start talking Tax Cuts?

Does this mean it’s time to start talking Tax Cuts?

Ipsos MORI Issues Tracker

On what issues will the next election be fought?

On Tuesday-last, Double Carpet and I attended the Ipsos MORI ‘End of Year Review’ in the CBI Conference facility at Centrepoint in London. Over 300 delegates were in attendance, mostly from public sector organisations who rely on Mori for social research, and we got to meet Julia Clark who frequently comes onto to answer our questions – I am indebted to her for providing me with the raw data and charts for this piece.

The headline speakers at the event were Polly Toynbee from the Guardian and Adam Boulton from Sky News. Both acquitted themselves well, but the highlight for me was the presentation by Ben Page, the Chairman of the Social Research Unit. He gave a riveting address on MORI’s Issues Tracker, which has been running for well over 30 years, and provides an insight into what the UK voting-age public consider the pressing political concerns of the nation. Since MORI moved to interviewing by telephone, the Issues Tracker has been split from the regular monthly political monitor, as they feel its integrity benefits from maintaining face to face interviews for these more expansive questions.

As you can see from the graphic at the top of the article, four trends are immediately identifiable:

  • Health/NHS and Education, which were the runaway leading issues in 1997 and 2001, and still important in 2005, have fallen to their lowest scores since Labour took power.
  • Whilst the Economy has been of relatively little concern since 1997, it has rocketed to clear first place in the last 12 months
  • Race Relations/Immigration has been of growing concern since 1997, but in the last 12 months has fallen away as Crime and the Economy took precedence. It still, however, outranks concern about Health/NHS and Education
  • Concern about Crime/Law & Order is continuing to rise.

I should deal with the fourth point first. Ben Page showed some statistical analysis conducted on the Crime figures, and most measurable indices show that crime has substantially fallen in the light of increased investment over the last decade. However, the fear of crime has grown almost exactly in inverse proportion to likelihood of being a victim. A huge part of the recent spike in fears has centred around knife crime, which is confined to a fairly limited age-group, and only in certain demographic sections of a handful of major urban centres.

An amusing├é┬átale was told of (I think) John Hutton holding his head in his hands at a story that a large proportion of law enforcement officers surveyed told horror stories about their work to their friends and neighbours, and that combined with the increase in the number of law enforcement officers, this might be a contributory factor in the negative PR and growing fears. The central message here is that parties don’t just need to tackle crime, they need to tackle the fear of crime if they want to be successful. The same applies to ‘local community involvement’ – very few people want to actually be involved, but they want very strongly to feel that they could be involved.

The concerns around Race Relations/Immigration are explicable given the enormous net immigration we have seen under Labour, though recent stories about EU immigrants returning home amidst the economic downturn may have eased fears that the population increase was becoming exponential. The key related findings are a small-but-noticeable growth in ‘nostalgia’ sentiment – that the country was better years ago, and that the country is ‘less British’ than it once was.

The Economy is pretty much the whole ball game, but the related areas (Tax, Pensions, Unemployment) have not yet caught up in the Issues Tracker, with the possible exception of Infation concerns, which have peaked and are now declining. The record of the last ten years suggests that when fears about Unemployment finally rise (they tend to lag behind spikes in fear about the economy generally) they dominate the graph, as they did even through Labour’s first term.

The interesting thought for me is that the two main Public Services are of such little concern. The Conservatives, even up until a few weeks ago, were saying that they planned to match Labour’s spending plans. For commentators like Danny Finkelstein, any mention of tax cuts will induce suspicions that the Tories will slash frontline public services. I would argue that the Issue Tracker suggests that people are largely satisfied with the NHS and Education, and that talk of tax cuts wouldn’t necessarily scare the horses that have been well-fed enough to bear a diet. I suspect people recognise that fat could be trimmed without doing actual damage to front-line services, and if they believe tax cuts are necessary to save the economy, they may even privilege them over the NHS and Schools.

I’m not sure if any of this is helpful for our betting, but I think it makes certain areas of debate less likely to be the central battleground upon which the next election will be fought, and that in turn will influence tactics.


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