Budget verdict: we are NOT all in this together

Peter KellnerPresident
May 16, 2011, 4:37 AM GMT+0

Peter Kellner delivers his verdict on last week's Budget

There are two ways to measure the immediate impact of last week’s Budget – how attitudes compare with the days before the Budget; and how attitudes compare with last June’s Budget. YouGov has done both, and they tell different stories.

In our polls for the Sun we asked a battery of questions at the beginning of last week, and repeated them in the 24 hours following Wednesday’s Budget. In each case there is a modest, but statistically significant, uptick in the Government’s fortunes:

As those figures show, each indicator has moved between four and seven points in the Government’s favour. We should not be surprised that the Conservatives have cut Labour’s lead, from 6-10% in the days leading up to the Budget, to 3-4% in the two surveys we have done afterwards.

However, those numbers do not contain unalloyed good news. More people think Osborne is doing well – but the proportion is still only one in three. Fewer people think the Government is cutting spending too fast – but they are still a majority.

The reason is that, while there has been a short-term improvement in the Government’s fortunes, the long-term trend is less favourable. Here is how the public’s reaction to the Budget, according to our polls for the Sun and Sunday Times, compared with reactions to Osborne’s first Budget last June:

With those indicators, the pro-Government position is down by at least seven points and, in one case, as much as 23 points. Last week’s short-term gains look more like a brief remission than evidence of real recovery.

That’s not to say the Government’s fortunes won’t improve by the time of the next general election. By 2015, if the economy recovers, unemployment starts to fall and the cuts in front-line public services prove less painful than many fear, The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats will have a positive story to tell about how they cleared up the mess they inherited.

For the moment, however, the public’s verdict on last week’s Budget suggests that Osborne has played a difficult hand with some tactical skill – but also that, compared with last June, fewer voters believe the Government’s narrative that its economic strategy is working, that it really does need to cut spending as fast as it is doing, and that, as far as both today’s pain and tomorrow’s benefits are concerned, we are all in this together.