Any chance we can vote in an evidence-based electorate?

by Stephen Tall on September 17, 2012

The 29th British Social Attitudes report has been published today by NatCen Social Research and is freely available to read here. I’ve had chance only to read the topline summary which is fascinating:

This year, the survey reflects an anxious nation facing tough times. There are clear challenges ahead for the Government if they are to lead the country forward:

· The proportion of people wanting increased public spending [on the NHS] – even if it means higher taxes – has gone up for the first time in a decade. Based on context and previous experience we expect this number to keep rising.

· However, there is clear support for action on welfare and immigration – two battlegrounds certain to be key in any future election

Not for the first or last time, the British public is wrong on all three counts:

NHS spending was ring-fenced by the Coalition and continues to receive above inflation budget increases year-on-year throughout this parliament. This was a mistake: for the Lib Dems Vince Cable was very careful not to rule out cuts in any area of public spending at the 2010 election, saying everything had to be scrutinised and justified on its relative merits. The only reason the Tories signed up to the ‘no cuts’ policy was as part of their detoxification exercise — itself somewhat ironic given what happened under Andrew Lansley.

By contrast, the tightening of welfare spending, supported by much of the public, is causing genuine concern — and not just among hand-wringing lefties, but also among economic liberals like Tim Leunig and Tory right-wingers like Iain Duncan Smith.

And as for immigration controls… well, if you want supply-side measures to boost economic growthwithout impacting on British workers — liberalising migration is the quickest, surest-fire way to achieve just that. Unfortunately, neither the Tories nor Labour (nor always the Lib Dems) are prepared to make the case in the face of hostile public opinion.

My conclusion: I’d like to vote for an evidence-based electorate, please.