Voters have given an "a-plague-on-both-your-houses" verdictby Peter Kellner / March 18, 2016 / Leave a comment
Read more: The numbers in the Budget just don’t add up
As a loyal Conservative backbencher, Boris Johnson doubtless wishes George Osborne well. London’s Mayor will be hoping —won’t he?—that the public will approve of this week’s Budget, and see it as a springboard for a prosperous future, flowing from successful Conservative policies.
If so, Boris will be severely disappointed by YouGov’s post-Budget poll for The Times. It finds that this is the second least popular Budget since the Tories returned to government, and that the Chancellor’s personal rating is on the slide.
Only the omnishambles Budget of 2012 went down worse. Then, of course, Osborne made some obvious political errors, such as the pasty tax. This time, he must have hoped that his political antennae were better tuned to the public mood. He did not increase fuel duty (despite the fiscal and environmental case for doing so, following the sharp fall in oil prices), nor did he upset millions of people by undertaking a fundamental reform of our creaking pension tax-relief system.
True, he did announce a sugar tax, and got roundly condemned for this by the Sun and Mirror (which unusually embraced the same anti-government cause). But YouGov’s survey finds that the public rather like the idea, with 62 per cent backing it and only 27 per cent regarding it as the wrong priority.
No, Osborne’s real problem is a return of economic gloom. Before Christmas there were signs of rising optimism. In Late November, 39 per cent thought the economy was recovering. Not a brilliant figure, to be sure—but far better than the post-Budget verdict. Now just 25 per cent say the economy is on the mend. Only slightly more, 28 per cent, think the Budget is fair.
That’s not all. Only 13 per cent think this week’s Budget will leave the country better off; the same low number expect it to leave them and their family better off. Osborne’s announcement of a rise in tax allowances, new savings opportunities for the under 40s, and freeze in fuel, beer and whisky duties have cut little ice. Few voters seem impressed by his claim that this is a Budget for young people, designed to give them brighter futures.
Some of his specific policies have gone down badly. Voters oppose the reductions in some disability benefits by more than five-to-one. Among Tory voters specifically the figure is still bad: they reject it by three-to-one. But few people back another policy that Osborne might have thought would be a vote-winner: his plans to turn all schools into academies. Only 14 per cent think this a good idea; as many as 59 per cent say it’s a wrong priority. Even Conservative voters reject it by 47-22 per cent.
All this helps to explain why Labour has drawn level with the Tories in YouGov’s poll. (Labour’s one-point lead is statistically insignificant.) But Jeremy Corbyn and his shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, should not crow. When people are asked who would make the better Chancellor, neither Osborne nor McDonnell do well. Only 24 per cent say Osborne, down from 40 per cent just before last year’s election, while McDonnell, on 13 per cent, fares far worse than Ed Balls ever did. As many as 63 per cent say “don’t know.” I have never known such a high figure on a subject dominating the news. It is best regarded as an “a plague-on-both-your-houses” verdict.
Again, Boris must be very upset.
Now read: George Osborne, our very own Wilkins Micawber