In the wake of Grenfell, confidence in public services could fall. That poses a challenge for both the Tories... and Jeremy Corbynby Liam Booth-Smith / September 18, 2017 / Leave a comment
According to data from pollsters Ipsos Mori the British people’s satisfaction in public services went up between 2014 and 2016. With 2015’s sentiment-eroding general election—widely remarked upon as one of the most negative campaigns in recent history—one might expect this not to be the case.
We should not be surprised, however. One of the most interesting aspects of recent governments’ public spending policies is how resilient satisfaction with public services has been. The Institute for Customer Service recently noted that satisfaction with public services has risen faster in recent years than any other sector. Even NHS satisfaction is comparable with the level seen during the Blair and Brown years.
Yet, I believe forces are aligning which put this stability at risk. If Theresa May’s government isn’t careful, it could begin to decline.
The first question is why has satisfaction remained relatively high over a period of squeezed public spending. This is partly down to a general perception, seeded during the Brown years by the Conservatives, that there was waste and inefficiency in public service under Labour. There was a grain of truth in this—Ed Miliband also believed public services had become too unresponsive to people’s needs. But hearing hysterical claims about the impending “destruction of public services,” voters weighed the rhetoric against reality and found the latter to be pleasantly surprising.
So why could this be in danger of changing now?
When it comes to satisfaction with public services, rarely does a single failure act as both light and touch paper. Rather a slow accumulation of frustration and disappointment finds voice in a sole incident, becoming totemic of something deeper.
Take the portentous quality of the Grenfell Tower fire. On its own a tragedy and failure, but meshed with the open wound that is Brexit, a cowed minority government, weak Prime Minister and energised opposition, commentators have press-ganged it into use as a symbol of a wider breakdown in society, government and services. Suddenly the stories of monthly bin collections, micro-charging in schools and GP waiting times aren’t discrete local matters, but part of a pattern of decline.
And a tendency toward declinism is a British trait, part of our collective and individual psyche. Only last year Britain was noted as one of the world’s…