There has been a change in the country’s attitude to taxation, spending and welfare recipients, according to the latest British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey which was released by Natcen last week.

Their findings – the result of nearly 3,000 interviews with people between July and November 2016 – suggest that support for higher taxation and greater public spending has hit a 10 year high. Almost half of the population (48%) support higher taxes and public spending, while 44% think they should stay as they are.

On one hand, this shift in attitudes is not surprising: we have seen seven years of restricted public spending and the tide of opinion has gradually drifted away from austerity. A look back at the history of this sentiment – the question has been asked virtually every year since 1983 – demonstrates that citizens react to fiscal policy at the time.

But this time, it’s possible that this shift is indicative of something wider – a genuine change of mood. In the same survey, the BSA team found that the proportion of people thinking that most dole claimants are ‘fiddling’ dropped to 22% – the lowest level recorded in 30 years and down from 35% just two years ago.

These changes in sentiment were recorded in the second half of 2016, and you could argue that since then the mood has shifted even further. A surprise election allowed the Labour Party to fight a campaign making an uncomplicated and unabashed pitch for an end to austerity and increased public spending.

The hung parliament that followed that campaign suggests the strategy worked with a significant number of people. In the last week, the Conservative Party Grandee Maurice Saatchi has suggested that his party

“…has been seduced by that idea that the voter is a “consumer” and the political party is a “brand”.”

In contrast to Jeremy Corbyn’s perceived authenticity, Saatchi identifies this as a key weakness in the current Conservative team, and that they need to articulate a moral message in order to stay relevant. The changing attitudes recorded by BSA suggest that this should happen sooner rather than later.

It is yet possible – if not even likely – that this is an opportunistic summer rage, a paralysing protest vote designed to embarrass the establishment (including the pundits) who predict the outcomes of referenda and elections with such certainty. But it is also possible that this is a genuine change in political mood.

If it is, then it heralds a new epoch in politics, business and society.


All this and more will be discussed at our next breakfast event, held in central London on July 20th. For more details and to register (it’s free) just click here.