After 13 years of Labour party rule, public mood in Britain shifts right as most voters back Thatcherite values
Public opinion has swung dramatically to the right with most voters now backing welfare cuts and a smaller state. Sympathy for benefit claimants has halved in the past 20 years and barely one in three adults supports shifting income from the rich to the poor.
Veteran Tory Lord Tebbit said that after 13 years of Labour rule the country was falling back into line with the Thatcherite values of hard work and lower taxes.
Analysis of the British Social Attitudes Survey shows:
* There is growing distrust of institutions such as the police, the BBC and banks;
* Contempt for politicians and the government is at an all-time high, with record numbers not trusting anything they say;
* Support for an English parliament is on the rise among voters resentful of high levels of public spending in Scotland;
* No support for redistributing income but widening concern over the pay gaps between bosses and workers;
* Britons are in denial about their age, with many rejecting the suggestion they are middle-aged or older.
The survey, partly funded by the Government, found that only 27 per cent want more to be spent on benefits. In 1991 the figure was 58 per cent.
Penny Young, chief executive of the National Centre for Social Research, which carried out the survey, said: ‘It is 20 years since Margaret Thatcher left office, but public opinion is far closer now to many of her core beliefs than it was then. Our findings show that attitudes have hardened over the last two decades, and are more in favour of cutting benefits and against taxing the better-off disproportionately.’
But while the country is in tune with the Coalition’s plans to shake up the welfare state, ministers could find it more difficult to get support for reforming health and education. Satisfaction with the Health Service was at an all-time high and has doubled since 1997 to 64 per cent. Mr Cameron promised to ring-fence health spending at the election but plans for wider reform could prove contentious.
And Education Secretary Michael Gove may struggle to press ahead with plans to emphasise traditional subjects in schools after the survey found 73 per cent want schools to teach children life skills. Only half of the 3,421 people interviewed said schools equipped children well for the real world.
Miss Young said: ‘Perhaps the biggest problem for the Government is how to lead the British public away from recession and implement reform when trust in politicians, government and banks is at an all-time low. ‘It will need to convince a sceptical electorate that it is working with their best interests at heart. ‘Emphasising the fairness of any cuts while protecting the tangible outcomes of increased spending will be crucial. ‘The public may want the Government to spend less but they don’t want to lose the gains of record investment.’
Lord Tebbit, who served under Margaret Thatcher, told the Mail: ‘Thatcher values were in line with human emotions and they are values which have been assaulted during 13 years of a Labour government.
‘Her values were that you should not choose idleness over working, that work should pay and that people should keep a larger proportion of what they earn, particularly those on lower incomes. They are all common-sense values.’
Every year, the National Centre for Social Research carries out in-depth interviews with more than 3,000 people in their homes. Since 1983, more than 80,000 have been asked for their views on British life.