James Frayne: What the polls tell us about the health of the Monarchy

13 Apr

James Frayne is Director of Public First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion.

The death of the Duke of Edinburgh has inevitably sparked a wave of interest in what the monarchy means to Britain. His death marks the beginning of the end of the second Elizabethan era and attention will soon be paid to what the Queen’s death in turn will mean for the future of the monarchy. Where does the monarchy sit in the minds of the British people and how might this change over time? Will the monarchy be fighting for its survival after the Queen dies? I have been through all the recent polling on the monarchy to try to answer these questions.

1) Support for the monarchy is very broad

Let’s deal with top line results first. On the basic popularity questions – in fact on every way you ask them – the British public supports the monarchy by a large margin.

YouGov’s tracker asks whether the monarchy is good or bad for Britain; the last result showed by 55 per cent to 11 per cent people say it’s good (with 27 per cent saying neither good nor bad). Savanta ComRes asked whether people agreed the monarchy was good for Britain; by 61 per cent to 15 per cent people agreed (with 18 per cent saying they neither agreed nor disagreed).

Ipsos-Mori recently asked whether it would be good or bad for Britain’s future if the monarchy was abolished; by 41 per cent to 19 per cent, people said it would be bad (with 31 per cent saying it would make no difference). Perhaps more interesting from a policy perspective, another YouGov poll asked whether Britain should continue to have a monarchy or replace it with an elected head of state; people chose the monarchy by 63 per cent to 25 per cent.

The Queen enjoys even higher levels of popularity: a separate YouGov tracker shows 79 per cent of the public think she has done a good job during her time on the throne.

Despite the large numbers of people who are either disinterested or unsure about the monarchy – figures which are surprisingly high for such a high-profile issue – support for the monarchy is very broad; it would take a catastrophic reversal of fortune for it to change significantly any time soon.

2) The Harry and Meghan affair hasn’t made much difference – yet

It’s hard to imagine worse coverage for the Royal Family in the last few months; the Oprah interview was, in PR terms, a total train wreck. However, despite all the shocking coverage in the media and online, the Harry and Meghan affair doesn’t seem to have changed public support much either way. Ipsos-Mori’s question on whether Britain’s future would be better with or without the monarchy was asked just before and just after the Oprah interview and there was only a very mild shift against the monarchy.

It is, of course, early days, and it’s possible the impact will take longer to be felt, but it certainly hasn’t been any sort of game changing event yet. In fact, the biggest shifts in the polls have been associated with Prince Harry’s personal reputation, which has dropped significantly; he has fallen a long way quickly; in 2018, a YouGov survey put him as the most popular Royal – above even the Queen. (It will be interesting to see how he handles any public appearances this week).

3) Younger people are again different

Drill into the numbers in more detail and of course the popularity of the monarchy doesn’t look so universal. As is becoming increasingly common, the biggest gaps are visible on age. In all of the polls I refer to above, the numbers change dramatically when you look at the tabs on age.

For example, the Savanta ComRes poll shows that 18-24s agree the monarchy is good for Britain only relatively narrowly, by 48 per cent to 37 per cent. More worryingly, in the YouGov question as to whether we should have a monarchy or an elected head of state, while the over-65’s believe we should have a monarchy by 77 per cent to 17 per cent, 18-24s support an elected head of state by 42 per cent to 37 per cent.

Unsurprisingly, the Harry and Meghan affair has been viewed differently by different age groups; young people are generally still positive towards the couple. Such were the allegations made by Harry and Meghan – on issues that we know the young care particularly passionately about – we don’t know whether all this will have a longer-lasting impact on the monarchy.

The great question is, of course, whether young people will, as it were, “grow out” of republicanism; their consistency across a range of cultural issues, and the intensity of feeling on cultural issues, suggests probably not – but this doesn’t mean the next generation will be the same.

4) Scotland lags behind

Only narrowly – by 41 per cent to 32 per cent – do Scots agree the monarchy is a good thing; the English agree by 63 per cent to 13 per cent and the Welsh by basically the same margin. As with the tabs on young people, this is also no surprise; the independence movement is completely entrenched in Scottish politics and the monarchy is seen by many in Scotland as an integral part of the Union, which of course it is.

The SNP has been careful on the monarchy, trying to avoid opening up an additional campaign front; after all, there will be some that would favour an independent Scotland with a shared head of state, but it’s clear that at least a significant minority of Scots view the Royal Family as a fundamentally English institution.

5) There’s a right-left split

Activists are always a bit odd; yes, that includes all of us that write for and read this website; we’re more likely to be ideological, to take an usually keen interest in politics and to have views on issues most people would find irrelevant or obscure.

But many of Labour’s activists are currently way out of the mainstream on an array of issues, with the monarchy being right up there. A YouGov poll of members in 2019 showed that 62 per cent of Labour members believe Britain should become a republic; the numbers for Scottish members were even higher (but the sample on Scottish members was tiny, so not robust).

I don’t have available corresponding figures for Conservative members, but the split between Conservative and Labour voters on a standard question as to whether we should keep the monarchy or have an elected head of state was 85 per cent to 10 per cent and 48 per cent to 40 per cent respectively – in favour of the monarchy.

Sir Keir Starmer has always been positive about the Royal Family (I have no idea of his personal views) and knows he needs to retain this line; but it’ll be interesting, given his grassroots, whether he feels pressure to say something like after the Queen’s death we should reform/slim down the monarchy, cutting off less popular minor royals. This would have at least some traction with the public.

6) King Charles looks set to inherit a less popular monarchy

The numbers on Prince Charles are at best mixed; YouGov’s tracker on whether he’d make a good king show the public are divided – with a third saying yes, a third no, and third unsure. On a straight question on ratings he’s currently viewed favourably by 49 per cent to 42 per cent (this dropped significantly in March; we need to keep an eye on this as it feels implausible that he’d fall so much, while others were pretty static).

Asked whether they’d prefer to see Prince Charles become king after the Queen’s death or Prince William, a poll in the autumn showed people would narrowly choose Prince William; Savanta ComRes’ more recent poll showed a significantly larger margin for William.

Will his low numbers damage the monarchy as an institution? That’s hard to say, but it requires working out what the numbers are telling us. While many on the right have been irritated by Charles’ pet political projects, the numbers don’t suggest that this irritates the public at large – probably because they don’t hear them. In fact, most people think it’s reasonable for him to speak out on issues that he worries about.

It’s more likely that he suffers from three things: (a) the fact he isn’t the Queen; (b) he’s not great on TV; (c) the legacy of his bitter divorce from Diana. In other words, I think the public are making a relative rather than an absolute judgement.

What does all this mean for the future of the monarchy? We should assume the Queen’s death or, more accurately, the coronation of King Charles will see support for the monarchy fall somewhat. This is inevitable; the Queen is so popular that any replacement will struggle – and Charles is starting from a low base.

But it’s hard to imagine this will lead to a serious, popular campaign for the end of the monarchy. Not only are the monarchy’s numbers as an institution sound, but let’s be honest: the public hate politicians so much, the idea that they’d like to see, say, an elected Labour or Conservative politician as head of state is mad (for realistically, this is who we’d get). For the foreseeable future, this will be a devastating counter-narrative.

The question is: will the monarchy’s numbers drop to such an extent that this doomsday argument needs to be made? Will we get to the point that we need to say: be careful what you wish for?

On this, I do indeed worry that this is where we might end up. Why? Because I fear the Royal Family is losing touch with the people who really support it: the English working class and lower middle class. It wouldn’t be one of my columns – would it – without this pivot to these voters? (Sorry.)

But look back at the polls I cite above and look at the tabs on SEG: time and again, you see C1/C2s and non-professionals giving the monarchy the greatest levels of support. These are the sorts of people who raise their love for the monarchy spontaneously and unprompted in focus groups; they’re the people who talk about day trips to London to “do all the Royal stuff”; they’re the people that attend the great public events and love them entirely at face value.

Perhaps because the popular press no longer sustains the massive levels of interest in the Royal Family that was evident even a decade ago (Harry and Meghan’s recent attacks aside), the Royal Family as an institution just don’t seem to have their finger on the English pulse like they used to. Simply put: the Daily Mail doesn’t force them to think of ordinary people as they once did.

And I fear Charles particularly lacks this insight; his concerns about the environment, modern architecture etc are all important but they’re inevitably niche issues for this audience; his public support for the military is a different matter, of course. He will need to learn about what it is these people really care about. (I could be wrong, but I suspect Camilla and her family are the best people to show him.)

In short, the monarchy will ultimately be safe in King Charles’ hands – but I suspect he’ll have to work hard to make it so.

James Frayne: Four lessons for industry and government from monstering of AstraZeneca

30 Mar

James Frayne is Director of Public First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion.

In Andrew Roberts’ great biography of Winston Churchill, he tells an unflattering story of how Churchill unfairly criticised the behaviour of Shell Oil when he was First Sea Lord, before the First World War.

As Roberts tells it, Churchill had made the sound decision to shift the Royal Navy onto oil and away from coal; this would make British ships faster and more efficient. Doing so, however, required vast amounts of oil, which the Royal Navy secured via a huge deal with Shell.

In announcing the deal to Parliament, Churchill said it was a great deal other than the cost – which he implied had been too high and therefore that Shell had ripped off the taxpayer. The Chairman of Shell asked Churchill to make the details of the arrangement public, but Churchill refused.

In 1966, it was finally revealed that Shell made almost no money from the arrangement and had even offered to put a Royal Navy commander on the board of the company. In hindsight, it was an extraordinary attack on a company that had offered the British Government help.

Fast forward a hundred years and here we are with another part-British company – Astra Zeneca – being smashed apart by politicians for doing something more altruistic than Shell did – providing vast numbers of injections to Covid-hit countries across the world at cost. Politicians and officials in the US and Europe have lined up to criticise the company’s methodology and the drug’s safety whilst also effectively (and wrongly) accusing it of unethical behaviour in the form of stockpiling, failing to meet contractual arrangements, and so on.

The British Government hasn’t been the one attacking AZ this time, but nonetheless, as with Shell, politicians are attacking a company that has been doing the right thing. (Disclosure: Public First does occasional work for the University of Oxford, but has not worked on the vaccine project, nor have we ever worked with AZ ). Little wonder AZ are publicly musing whether they made a mistake in offering all this at cost.

What have we learned from the AZ affair? Four big lessons stand out.

1. There are massive risks of working with any Government – and this Government in particular

Any business that works with Government puts itself in the firing line: more people hear about them; the media takes a closer interest; opponents of the Government start criticising them. Businesses that work with Governments aren’t choosing to work with apolitical “states” and masses of neutral civil servants, but with political entities who have political supporters and political opponents – and this Government has more than its fair share of opponents.

As I’ve written before, much of the British media likes to think of most European countries being led by entirely rational, reasonable, great statesmen and women – driven only by vision and altruism and utterly uninterested in politics. But just as Leo Varadkar’s hostility to Britain during Brexit negotiations was in part driven by an electoral need to attract “soft” Sinn Fein voters, so Macron’s hostility to AZ is partly driven by embarrassment at French and general European failure to get their act together on vaccination, while Britain steamed ahead.

What was Macron – who faces his own election again soon – going to say? “Sorry everyone, I have personally messed up and Britain, who I always criticised, has made impeccable decisions”? Clearly not: there were obvious short-term political reasons why AZ would come under fire. You choose to work with Government, you pay a price.

2) British companies might face particular vulnerability in this new world

The fact AZ is part-British caused the company big political problems. While the idea of actual anti-British hostility is way overdone, the reality of Brexit made the failure of the European vaccination programme more problematic politically for some European leaders. In other words, it’s just hard luck on AZ that the political stars were lined up against them; there was little they could do.

But this is unlikely to be a one-off; while Covid raised the stakes, it’s nonetheless reasonable to assume that British companies are going to become more vulnerable politically and commercially in the coming years. Has Britain been in the EU, other European leaders would not have trashed it; outside the EU, it’s a different story. Our closest ally – the United States – is eye-wateringly aggressive in promoting and protecting its leading businesses (like Boeing); the EU is equally combative.

Outside the EU, for all the benefits that brings, there’s no question our businesses will lack the same protection that membership of a bigger block will bring.

3) The British Government will have to become more assertive on behalf of British companies

While there’s a limit to what the British Government can do to promote and protect British firms, it is going to have to start becoming much more assertive. At the moment, the Government helps to promote British trade by, for example, making introductions to foreign companies and foreign states; it also promotes Britain as a destination to invest in. This is all useful and the marketing teams at the Cabinet Office and the Department for International Trade have done a decent job over the last decade.

But the Government isn’t set up to engage in PR combat on behalf of British firms; in other words, to help defend firms in the media (and indeed on social media). While the Government can plan neat marketing campaigns to invest in Global Britain, they’re just not geared up to, say, engage in close combat with the New York Times, which is an entirely different model of communications.

The Government needs to explore the creation of a team within BEIS, the DIT or the Cabinet Office to help British businesses out when they’re unfairly attacked. While it’s not for them to promote one firm over another or to act as a business’ press office, the reality is that only Governments can make the news and command attention at certain times.

What could AZ really do when attacked by the President of France? At best, have a paragraph of context dumped on the end of a story. There’s no reason why the British Government can’t or shouldn’t be more assertive in helping British companies in the media – at least amongst top-tier titles like the NYT.

4) ‘Purpose’ is overplayed as a concept in corporate communications

For those of you that work in and around public affairs and corporate communications, you’ll know the recent obsession with firms demonstrating so-called “purpose”; this is where firms project their values to the outside world to show their decency. It’s a good idea in principle, although, as I’ve bored those of you in public affairs to death with for a decade, demonstrating purpose has to reflect the realities of public opinion, not the opinion of a company’s own marketing team.

In many ways, AZ had the perfect model to show “purpose”; in the end, though, it wasn’t enough. This is because “purpose” soon becomes “politics”.

I have no special knowledge of AZ or what happened, so I make a broader point not directed at them: you can only engage in this sort of work if you are ready for political combat. Again, AZ aside, there are many, many firms that are dipping their toe into the most controversial policy issues without even basic thought or preparation about how such policy conversations might play out.

AZ’s experience should make all businesses preparing to engage in seemingly innocuous policy conversations – or ones where there seem only to be upsides – think again.

James Frayne: How will the aftermath of Clapham Common affect the public standing of the police?

16 Mar

James Frayne is Director of Public First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion.

A few weeks ago, I looked at public attitudes to the police. Given events in Clapham at the weekend – where the police forcibly broke up the vigil to mark the death of local resident Sarah Everard – I thought it was worth returning to.

Priti Patel has already demanded a full explanation, and quite a few people are calling for Cressida Dick to go. What effect will all this have on the reputation of the police amongst the broader English population? (Clearly, restrictions are in place on reporting/analysing this case, so there’s a lot that can’t be said here).

In judging this overall question, we must ask the following.

Firstly, will the public view police action through the prism of Covid control, as the police claim? Secondly, more importantly and fundamentally, will they consider the vigil to have been about something other than the appalling and tragic death of a young woman? Will they think this event was saying something important about women’s safety and women in society – and therefore that the police were effectively operating in a hostile manner, on the wrong side of a moral issue?

On the first, early polling suggests the public are split. YouGov released a snap poll yesterday showing the public very narrowly thought the vigil should not have been allowed to have gone ahead, by 43-40 percent, with the rest unsure. A second question asked whether vigils and protests should be allowed to go ahead more generally; here, the public were tougher: by 59-26, people said such events should not go ahead. (Obviously, very different questions to whether the vigil should have been broken up).

The different results to quite similar questions are important; they show both that the public are still largely in a “safety first” mentality, but that this case has shocked them so much that many viewed this vigil as a special case. Further polling will reveal the truth, but my sense is that most people will think therefore that, once people had gathered peacefully, the police should have let it continue, and their actions in forcibly breaking it up were insensitive and crass.

(I would also think that most would agree that a sensible, socially-distanced vigil could have been managed).

In judging the handling to have been crass, there is an additional complication for the police. This is that people know very well that the police have let other demonstrations go on without mass arrests or aggressive dispersal. People have seen these events with their own eyes on the media and social media; they have seen the police do nothing at times when the R-rate was much higher and on issues which rightly or wrongly agitated the bulk of the population less.

While the police are obviously in a difficult position in choosing what they allow to go ahead and what they clamp down on, there is more than enough to go on to suggest that they are inconsistent in how they operate.

In short, despite narrow opposition to the event going ahead, I can’t see how most people won’t think that the police ultimately made a mistake; the Covid defence won’t wash.

What then of the more fundamental and complex questions: whether people will think Everard’s death said something very fundamental about our society which should have been marked by the vigil, and which the police should have respected. Were the police – indeed, are the police – on the wrong side of a moral issue? These will really be the questions that really determine whether this will have any serious long-term effect on the reputation of police nationally.

Before answering this, we should look briefly at the YouGov polling again; the results don’t tell us everything, but they’re interesting. Here, we see a significant but not massive difference between men and women on the question as to whether the vigil should have gone ahead: women thought it should go ahead by 42-39 percent; men thought it should not go ahead by 47-38.

On the second question, as to whether vigils and marches generally should go ahead, men and women oppose them equally – by 60-25 and 59-26 respectively. On a third question, about whether Cressida Dick should resign, men and women were basically united in opposition – by 51-26 and 43-20 respectively.

It’s early days and time will tell; however, my sense at this point is that most people – men and women – will mainly view Everard’s death as a once-in-a-generation tragedy: an event that we will be talking about for many decades to come. It will likely provoke a debate about good and evil and the state of our society generally. And in time it will likely provoke extensive concerns about sentencing and punishment.

I don’t think – at this point – that most people will think of it as marking the start of a debate on how society treats women; I suspect her death will be so utterly shocking that it will be in a category on its own. It is possible, of course, that a debate about the treatment of women does begin; but it will begin because this is what political leaders are talking about, rather than necessarily because of what people think. (Allegations about inappropriate behaviour from the police after her death, which are just emerging, might change this).

As such, at this point I would think that the police will not be seen by most people as being on the wrong side of a great moral question.

What does all this mean for public opinion and the police? As I pointed out last time, despite what many media outlets imply, the police are very popular in England and Wales; people think they have handled Covid well and more generally they think they’re “on our side”. While they’re vulnerable to allegations of insensitivity and inconsistency at Clapham, they will not be viewed as displaying the wrong values.

But, as is often the case with these sorts of events, while their reputation will survive this mistake, it will begin to make many people keep an eye on their future behaviour in such a way that, “next time”, they won’t have the benefit of the doubt. After all, as I discussed last time, the polling shows that many people are questioning their priorities and judgement; they aren’t too far away from a more serious slip in public support.

James Frayne: Raise tax, and expect your competence and values to be questioned

2 Mar

James Frayne is Director of Public First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion.

I wrote about tax a few weeks ago here. Given it now seems overwhelmingly likely we’ll be facing significant tax rises tomorrow, I thought it was worth returning to.

The context has changed even in these last few weeks; most obviously we know the timetable for leaving lockdown; but we have also had a significant softening up exercise from the Government to prepare people for tax rises.

It’s a dangerous game, relying solely on polling to judge the state of public opinion; polls never tell the full story. This is particularly true on the issue of tax.

Over the last twenty years, we’ve heard endless claims the public don’t care much about tax; after all, the polls usually put “tax” towards the bottom of people’s national and personal priorities. This, coupled with questions forcing people to choose between theoretical decisions between tax cuts and public spending – which invariably show people support higher spending – have helped justify a Conservative pivot away from being a genuinely low tax party.

But things have never been that simple over the last twenty years and, on the eve of this Budget, nor are they so simple now. While we in Westminster are having one set of conversations on tax – usually framed through the classic left-right prism that makes sense to us (and only us) and usually focused primarily on the economy – the public are having an entirely different set of conversations.

As such, decisions on tax can have entirely unintended political consequences. I set out here a few of the fundamentals of public opinion on tax.

Raise tax and expect people to question your competence. 

The polls usually show the public support tax rises to pay for a specific good; so, in the late 90s and early 2000s, people said they strongly supported Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s decisions to raise taxes to pay for higher spending on the NHS and other public services.

More recently, they supported the Conservatives’ recent implicit decision to raise taxes to pay for a big injection of cash into the NHS (implicit because they thought that extra borrowing would in the end mean higher taxes).  And the polls will show the public are at least sympathetic to the idea of raising taxes to pay off the massive debt accumulated during the pandemic.

But the public open their wallets passive-aggressively and grudgingly. They expect to see rapid results and they don’t expect politicians to come back for more cash again soon because it didn’t work.

In short, when the public vote to pay more in tax, they immediately begin to question the competence of those they’ve given cash to. A very large proportion of the lower middle class started to peel off from New Labour in the early 2000s in exasperation at the lack of progress on the NHS (fair or not). The Conservatives should expect something similar to happen now.

To be fair, things are more complex here; the Government is going to be paying off debt, rather than splurging it on new services. But the public will still begin to question their spending decisions seriously now; the Government will have lost the benefit of the doubt; when they next make economic errors, having taken more cash off people, they’ll face an irritated public.

And expect them to question your values too.

Just as they’ll start to question the competence of the Government, so too will they start to question the judgement / values of the Government. It’s often said that the public don’t believe politicians who say they’ll cut “waste”. This is true, but not for the reasons people commonly imagine.

It’s not just that they think politicians are incompetent (which they do), but, more importantly, that they think they’ll spend money on a whole series of stupid things. In other words, raise taxes and expect people to question your spending priorities. The public effectively ask: “why on earth are you raising taxes when you’re spending money on x?” (People only started really paying attention to the aid budget when it went up so much).

The mid-2000s saw the massive growth in the TaxPayers’ Alliance off the back of public irritation with the Blair/Brown Governments’ spending priorities. And, just as we should expect the public to start to question the competence of this Government, so too we should expect them to start questioning their priorities – and their values.

Fairness doesn’t just mean “tax business and the rich”. 

Three interesting points from focus groups down the years on taxing the better off. Firstly, and this is hardly new, the public hates inheritance tax because they don’t like the idea of double taxation. Secondly, they hate the idea of those with higher levels of savings paying more for their social care, because they don’t like the idea of careful, thrifty middle class being whacked for good behaviour. Thirdly, any conversation about higher taxes for higher earners (high five-figures) quickly descends into people saying actually they know people who earn this sum who run their own businesses, and how hard they work.

The point is this: you can’t just tax big businesses or “the rich” and expect to get away with it in every circumstance; on the contrary, it can blow up if the motives look dodgy. The English public doesn’t have a classically “left-wing” view of economic fairness; they have an English view.

The concept of “sin taxes” is evolving. 

The public conversation amongst the mainstream middle class and working class is evolving quickly; collectively, they are changing their minds quickly on which “bad things” should be taxed. They are coming around to the idea that, given they think taxes are going to have to rise, that it makes sense to use taxes to bring about societal change.

Specifically, that means, in this context, that they are coming around to the idea of using fiscal carrots and sticks to help protect the environment; this has changed in the last three years. In the relatively recent past, politicians taxed tobacco for apparently altruistic reasons and the public went along with it. Times have now changed, and pretty soon we’re going to see “sin” associated with things like carbon.

When the economy is threatened, they oppose business tax rises. 

When I ran a large project for the TaxPayers’ Alliance a couple of years ago, the most interesting lesson was that the working class had swung behind big businesses as their fears grew of a post-Brexit economic downturn. All of the coverage – chiefly on the BBC – about businesses leaving the country had made them nervous about driving these big employers away.

While you hear less of this concern at the moment, this is because the mass of the public have no idea about the appalling state we’re in financially and economically. Furlough morphine has made them think the economy, fundamentally, is fine and that we’re going to jump straight into the “roaring 20s”. With this in mind, it would be dangerous for the Government to read too much into the polls that show public relaxation at the prospect of significant business tax rises; the polls could very easily shift back to where they were a few years ago once Government support is withdrawn.

The Government will be reasonably confident that it can anticipate the immediate public reaction to tomorrow’s budget. In a crisis – even in its latter stages – the Government will likely get away with pretty much anything within reason. In the early stages of his Budget speech, Rishi Sunak will be able to reel off endless figures showing the shocking state of the public finances; he will be able to position his Budget as a direct response to this.

Much harder to predict is the longer-term reaction to the Government’s economic policy priorities, of which this Budget will mark the beginning. As this short blog notes, pretty much all tax rises are dangerous politically.

James Frayne: The 0.7 per cent. Polling suggests that the Tory rebels should aim to bring it back later – not save it now.

16 Feb

James Frayne is Director of Public First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion.

The public row over the Government’s intention to suspend its 0.7 foreign aid commitment will likely become an intra-party row in the coming weeks. It seems assured that at least some Conservative MPs will rebel against the decision. How big this revolt gets will depend in part on MPs’ reading of party opinion and general public opinion. So what does the research say?

The last poll question directly on this issue was asked by YouGov in November. The results were clear: 92 per cent of 2019 Conservative voters support the reduction; and 66 per cent of the public overall, with 18 per cent opposed (and the rest unsure). The only group to oppose the decision was 18-24 year olds, narrowly by 35 per cent to 30 per cet (the rest unsure). Labour voters support the decision by 44 per cent to 37 per cent and Remainers by 51 per cent to 34 per cent.

While the Government’s justification for the suspension of the target will ultimately be Covid – and the reality of the pressures on the public finances – this doesn’t appear to be a feature of people’s consideration. Given a list of options, in December just two per cent of those polled said they thought the Government should spend more on foreign aid; while 59 per cent said they thought the Government is spending too much money on aid. But these figures have barely changed over the last 18 months.

Interestingly, the need to cut aid has not been a significant feature of focus groups over the last year. My sense is this is because the public has, as I’ve argued before, been living on “furlough morphine” and doesn’t yet appreciate the nature of the financial correction that will be required.

We should assume that, if the Government were to connect the dots for the public and to make this case aggressively, as they will, this will become more of a feature of public discourse. While the reduction is minimal, people will still support it as it sounds like a tangible cut.

It is often said that the polls on 0.7 per cent are misleading: the point being that people say they oppose 0.7 but wouldn’t vote on the issue particularly, and also that abandoning 0.7 is something of a cultural signifier – i.e: it shows to soft Conservatives (to simplify, middle class, urban Remainers) that the party is narrow-minded and nationalist. My sense on this is that the first is wrong but the second is right.

By this, I mean that I suspect, when the argument is made by the Government that tighter public finances requires a suspension of the target, it will make the decision more important to most people – in other words, they will actually actively endorse it. YouGov polling shows the public have declared strong feelings on aid for some time. Given a long list of public policy options in a 2017 poll – from extending devolution to raising income tax – “sharply reducing spending on overseas aid” came fourth, narrowly behind reducing immigration. It was similarly fourth in 2015, too.

However, I suspect the very act of the row and its increased visibility will be off-putting to many people, and that opposition will grow somewhat. We see this all the time; Brexit in many ways is the ultimate example: twenty years ago, anti-EU sentiment came, in campaign terms, primarily from the left. But the UKIP surge and the shift towards a more patriotic / nationalist anti-EU argument turned many anti-EU voters into pro-EU voters.

The same will happen here; many people – particularly amongst the upper middle class – primarily define themselves by who they’re not, and there will likely be mini surge of support for 0.7 per cent. The two are compatible; there will be a hardening of support for suspension, but opposition will also grow – with “Don’t Knows” further squeezed.

What does all this mean for likely Government action? Most likely, that they stand firm on not meeting the target this year and, within reason, that they don’t seek to play the decision down and tick the “no publicity” box.

However, what may change is how they approach the suspension of the target – either by building in a sunset clause, and committing to returning to 0.7 per cent in the future, or by avoiding a parliamentary vote (and risk of rebellion) altogether. (The legislation enshrining 0.7 per cent allows the Government to miss the target if there has been a substantial change in the country’s income and this would be a simple case to make). Regardless, I suspect they will also temper their own language on this and seek to discourage the right of the party from apparently dancing on the grave of the 0.7 per cent.

And what does this mean for the rebels – in the Conservative Party and elsewhere? I’m less clear on what they’ll do, as the coalition is so much broader. However, my advice is this: meeting 0.7 in the next fiscal year is done; so their efforts should be directed into either setting an achievable target for its return or, even better, persuading the Government to take the non-legislative route in exchange for acquiescing to a 2021 cut.

The danger of not striking a deal now is that a vote on bringing the target back will be an even harder battle to win: after all, for the next decade at least, money will be tight; the Government will have to justify to voters a return to 0.7 per cent at a time when, say, it is restricting NHS, education and police budgets.

This brings us back to the main point, which even occasional readers will be bored of reading here: restoring the target in the longer-term means the development movement finally needs to talk to working class and lower middle-class voters and make the case to them.

It will be hard to achieve medium-term progress on aid with the sort of opposition to 0.7 per ceent that we see amongst the Conservatives’ new core. In addition, not a cheery thought, but there’s another serious challenge coming slowly down the line: what support there is amongst the working class is going to be slowly eroded by this cultural critique of the aid charities that ordinary people love – like Comic Relief.

James Frayne: A clear majority of people think the police do a good job – but want them to be tougher enforcing lockdown

2 Feb

James Frayne is Director of Public First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion.

Reading some tabloid news sites, you’d think the public really disliked the police. For most of the last year, they’ve faced consistent criticism, often from entirely different directions: they’ve been criticised both for standing by as people blatantly ignore social distancing, and for an over-zealous pursuit of minor transgressions. What’s the truth? What do people think about the police in the context of the lockdown and what do they think more generally?

The polls are a mess on first look; the numbers appear to be all over the place. However, look carefully and it’s possible to draw some important conclusions. On the most fundamental question – whether people think the police are doing a good or bad job – YouGov’s tracker shows a clear majority of people think they do a good job. At the beginning of 2021, the public said they were doing a good job by 67 per cent to 22 per cent (with the rest saying “don’t know”). This hasn’t changed significantly since the tracker began in July 2019, when approval ratings were 70 per cent to 25 per cent.

Things have slipped since the early days of lockdown. On March 30, approval ratings were 75 per cent to 15 per cent. To be fair, this fall looks starker than it otherwise might – because they had a spike in popularity in the early days of March, when there was a surge in the popularity of “the state” more broadly (including the Government). Yet there’s no denying they’ve taken a hit.

The kickings the tabloid news sites have dished out to the police have been strongest when the police have been accused of over-reacting – for example, over the recent fines for two women who drove to a beauty spot to take exercise together. But you’d struggle to make a case that the public were truly annoyed about supposed excesses of the police. On the contrary, the polls very strongly suggest the public are much more irritated with the police not enforcing basic lockdown rules with greater severity.

YouGov poll from a couple of weeks ago showed 52 per cent of the public think the police have not been tough enough during the lockdown, with only 12 per cent saying they’ve been too tough, and 20 per cent saying they’ve got the balance right.

This has been the basic picture since throughout the lockdown: in April 2020, another YouGov poll for Crest Advisory showed, by huge majorities, people were comfortable with the police stopping people to ask their business, arresting people who didn’t return home when told to do so, issuing penalty fines, and setting up roadblocks.

Civil liberties concerns kicked in a few times: people were divided on the use of drones and facial recognition technology, and they opposed the police naming and shaming on social media. An updated Crest Advisory YouGov poll, just released, reveals numbers haven’t moved much over the various lockdowns.

This takes us back to people’s fundamental views on the police. While they are basically still popular, where the police struggle it’s on one big thing: having the wrong priorities. The lockdown data cited immediately above hints at the problem: people want visible policing where they can see obvious benefit; they are dubious about the merits of obsessing about social media or modern technology (within reason).

And the very negative polling that exists on the police is on perceptions of how seriously they take the most serious crimes. Polls show nearly half the population don’t believe they take assault seriously enough; by nearly 2-1 they don’t believe the police take burglary seriously enough; and half the population don’t believe they take mugging seriously enough.

What does all this mean for the police? First, on the lockdown, that people want to see them lead a crackdown on consistent and basic rule-breaking – large indoor gatherings, very large outdoor gatherings and, particularly in London, wilful ignoring of the need to wear masks on public transport.

Second, more generally, that people want them to focus overwhelmingly on those crimes that strike fear into communities (usually those linked to violence and intimidation) and that they stop being dragged into public rows on the uses of social media; while there’s a role for the police in dealing with blatant intimidation online, their inexplicable decision to record incidents which aren’t even crimes will hurt them over time.

There’s a final point to all this – which one my colleague Blair Gibbs makes (who used to advise the PM on home affairs issues). This is that the recent high-profile recruitment of 20,000 new officers is going to raise public expectations about police performance.

While some public expectations might be unrealistic, nonetheless people will expect to see a more visible and assertive set of police forces across the country. Having the wrong priorities amid far higher expectations will likely begin to erode those positive numbers discussed at the start.

James Frayne: Sunak must resist those calling for radical action on tax

19 Jan

James Frayne is Director of Public First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion.

Speculation is rife the Government is planning to raise taxes in the Budget; the only questions seem to be who they’ll tax and for how long.

Time will tell; I don’t think big tax rises are a given yet, given the economic and political risks associated with such a decision and this Government’s tendency to kick hard decisions down the road until they’re sure they can carry opinion with them.

However, let’s assume the Government are going to raise taxes. Others on this site are better qualified to discuss the relative economic merits of such tax rises, but I set out here where the public are on the subject – and therefore how they might respond to different options said to be under consideration.

Don’t think tax, think living standards

In the 80s and 90s, the Conservatives won elections in part through their aggressive campaigns on tax; they savaged Labour on tax ahead of the upset victory in 1992.

In the three elections since, their tax campaigns weren’t enough to stand up to Blair’s juggernaut. Consequently, in this period, it became commonplace to think the public weren’t bothered about tax at all. And indeed, most contemporary polls on people’s political priorities tend to show the issue of “tax” as being very low down the list of public priorities.

But while “tax” sits low in the polls, “cost of living” or “living standards” are much higher; these are the questions we should be looking at in judging people’s attitudes to tax levels.

The question on tax is in part a question on income: people oppose most tax rises when they’re feeling poor. Massive numbers of people across the country – particularly those in the private sector outside the South East – have had a shocking year and their living standards have taken a battering. Tax levels really matter again, particularly where they directly eat into income.

Fairness, as ever, matters hugely

I know I’m obsessed with the English obsession of fairness, but here we go again: people must believe tax rises are “fair” – in their scale, operation and in who they hit.

Tax rises can never be too large; they must not be retrospective (for example by changing the rules in a way that punish people for lifestyle choices they made many years ago); they must not punish people who have, for example, already paid tax on some of their income; and they should not be targeted at those who are struggling.

Think of those taxes that have attracted public scorn in recent times: the “bedroom tax”; inheritance tax; and the prospect of raiding people’s accounts to pay for social care (effectively a tax). Each of them breached the public’s view of fairness.

Clear policy goals matter

In Westminster, it’s common to hear “people accept tax rises but always on others”. There’s some truth to this, but it needs explanation. Most people are willing to accept higher taxes if they think it’ll do some good.

This is why they initially went along with Gordon Brown’s tax rises in the early 2000s (they were seen as being directly linked to spending on public services), and why they also accepted higher taxes to pay for an increase in NHS spending recently.

It’s also why they are open to taxes being used to promote greener and cleaner lifestyles; while there’s scepticism about politicians’ motives on green taxes, they are open to the tax system being used, if it must be, to deliver policy outcomes like reduced air pollution and so on.

People know there’s no magic money tree

In France, politicians have been up in arms that so-called “Yellow Vest” activists want both higher spending and lower taxes; it’s a criticism occasionally levelled against new Conservative voters.

But it’s generally unfair criticism; most people know the money has to come from somewhere and debt must be repaid; they also know businesses pay a lot of tax. With this in mind, while given a choice they will often say tax “big business” first, they also know this isn’t cost free because it effects their ability to hire and retain staff.

What does all this mean? Probably five things.

Firstly, most fundamentally, any tax rises in the short term will be unpopular. No surprise there, perhaps, but the point is this: taxing families in a downturn is bad, but taxing their employers will be unpopular too.

It’s easier, as Labour discovered in the late 1990s and early 2000s, to raise taxes when the economy is doing well. It’s hard to see how the Government will be able to raise taxes and not take a hit somehow. Politically speaking, it’s about choosing the least-worst option; there is no clever route that will make the public think the Government has pulled off a wonderful move.

Secondly, and consequently, the Government should look to cut unnecessary spending wherever possible before raising taxes. People are opposed to tax rises but might reluctantly accept them – as long as it looks like Government has done everything possible to avoid them.

This provokes an immediate response: where on earth would you cut? Education? Welfare? Surely not in a downturn. This is a fair question; but the Government must at least be seen to try to reduce waste (incidentally, Labour are clearly alive to this, as they’ve been increasingly banging the drum on waste).

Thirdly, big bold changes like a wealth tax or equivalent risk political disaster. As discussed, English people go mad when rules change and they find themselves punished through no fault of their own. In this case, telling a group of thrifty, hard-working, older middle-class people they’re going to get whacked because the Government has previously enacted policies that caused their house prices to rocket would be completely politically insane.

With this in mind, politically speaking the Government would be better off pulling the levers that people understand: things like corporation tax, VAT and so on. While they would still be unpopular, they wouldn’t deliver massive losers – or, rather, massive new losers. Better to play safe.

Fourthly, the Government should consider one-off hits, justified by the need to pay for a year of massive but necessary largesse. Just as Labour introduced a one-off “Windfall Tax”, so the Government should consider one or more similar emergency taxes. People like to know what tax rises are for; they like them to be justified. There has probably never been a better time to justify a single, simple, one-off tax rise.

Fifthly, and finally, the Government should ignore the noise in the media on which products, sectors or businesses are popular or not as they consider who to tax. Instead, the Government should look at the actual choices ordinary people make in their daily lives: how they get to work; where they work; what they buy; where they buy; how they buy; and so on. The choices people actually make in life are usually the ones they really don’t want taxed.

Pretty soon, the media will be saying this Budget will make or break Rishi Sunak. A solid budget with no major political mistakes and commentators will be practically redecorating Downing Street on his behalf; a different outcome and you know the rest.

He will be encouraged to be big and bold and to do everything from launch Global Britain, to “level up” the country, and to pay off a massive chunk of new debt. I strongly suspect, when it comes down to it, he’ll play safe by using the tax system in the way we’ve all come to know – and he’ll announce that the Budget will be followed in short order by new statements on spending. In other words, he’ll try to stop people thinking this is a “one off” event.

But at the same time he’ll be thinking of his version of a Windfall Tax – and that could get dropped at any time.

James Frayne: Migration control, NHS spending, boosting growth – and a reworked foreign policy. Four post-Brexit priorities for Johnson.

5 Jan

James Frayne is Director of Public First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion.

Agreeing a deal that Eurosceptics and EU officials can live with was a stunning victory for the Government – and for Boris Johnson personally.

Eighteen months ago, he took control of a shambolic and humiliating negotiation process – and a party devastated by Nigel Farage in the then recent European Parliamentary elections. He immediately massively boosted the party’s ratings and won a landslide election; and he has ultimately secured a deal that many said would be impossible.

The media would ordinarily be awash with analysis about the scale of the Prime Minister’s win, and his unassailably strong position. How many others of those who have held his office can point to such a victory ever – let alone in such a short space of time?

But he’s not getting the credit that even opponents in the media would briefly grant him: Covid overshadows everything. As such, it’s possible the Government will never see the political benefit of having “got Brexit done” before people begin to ask: “how will Brexit work for me?”

We’re three years away from the beginning of the next election campaign, and the Government must show voters that the trauma of Brexit was worth it. We can hardly be surprised by or annoyed with Emmanuel Macron’s recent claims Brexit was built on lies; what else can he say to his own irritated electorate – that the British had a point?

But the French President’s recent comments are the latest reminder that Johnson’s Leave campaign promised that things would be better when we left the EU. And the Prime Minister must therefore prove it.

What does that mean in practice? Anthony Browne’s summer series on this site and his recent article on the same subject list a series of practical suggestions about how the Government might use post-Brexit powers. This is a good place to start. Below, I set out some more basic political priorities the Government needs to meet if it’s going to maintain public support.

Let’s deal with the obvious first: immigration. The public did not vote for lower immigration per see; they voted for control over borders. This is not a distinction without a difference; it really matters. The mass of the working class and lower middle class in England are happy for significant levels of immigration if the economy needs it, and if the “right” people are coming to the UK.

For “right” people, don’t read “white”; rather, read “socially important” – care workers, nurses and other NHS staff above all. But given the domestic economy looks set to take a battering, the public will expect immigration to be reduced significantly, and for most of the new arrivals to be doing socially important roles. This is non-negotiable; if by the end of 2023 the scale and nature of immigration into the UK looks the same as in previous years, the Government will be in a shocking position across provincial England.

Secondly, another obvious one, the Government needs to prove the NHS has benefited from Brexit. That pledge on the bus will be met, not least because of the massive spending on healthcare to deal with the Covid crisis. But Vote Leave’s subtler but more potent pledge during the referendum was that it would be easier to secure a hospital or GP appointment – effectively, because reduced immigration would reduce pressure on services, particularly in big cities.

Perhaps the Government will find Covid has reset the entire debate on healthcare and everyone will be interested in new priorities. But there’s at least a fair chance that they will be judged on speed of access. Those devastating “waiting room” ads Vote Leave ran in 2016 could come back to haunt the Government.

If these first two challenges are “simple, not easy”, then the third challenge is neither simple nor easy. The Government needs to create a pro-growth economic policy that maximises its position outside the EU – and they must do this before the public demands that post-Brexit economic freedoms are used for bailouts and potentially counter-productive “buy British” campaigns.

This needs explanation. In the EU referendum, while leading Government figures did not explicitly promise to bring large-scale steel-making back to Britain, Vote Leave nonetheless benefited from the political fallout from the decline of British Steel – which led people to see how EU rules prevented the Government from taking action to support the steel industry.

Very soon, amid the post-Covid downturn, it is a certainty that various major businesses are going to hit severe trouble – and the public will demand that the Government uses new economic freedoms to bail these businesses out. Similarly, voters will soon start to demand that pretty much all public procurement exercises end up with victories for British-based businesses. “What’s the point of Brexit”, they will ask, “if we aren’t using it to support British businesses?” Of course, they will have a point.

Without a strong free-market, low-tax, post-Brexit narrative – backed by real action – the Government risks being dragged into a quasi-corporatist economic policy reminiscent of the sort of policy we had on entry into the European Community in 1973. In other words, the Government needs urgently to develop an economic policy that will actually work for the country and that is authentically post-Brexit, before they get a disastrous one forced upon them by public opinion.

This is a policy that must be built on the approach the EU worries about most: serious competition derived from low taxes and light regulation, particularly in the service sector. While this was arguably never against the rules, the EU has made it clear such an approach would be frowned upon. It needs exploring regardless.

Fourthly, and least tangibly perhaps, the Government needs to begin to execute a geopolitical pivot that shows that Britain’s role in the world is different. While people hardly follow foreign and security policy, or conversations about trade, they nonetheless pay attention to the backdrop of British political life – the foreign leaders that the Prime Minister is meeting, the countries we’re doing business with, the big things our politicians are talking about. For decades, they’ve heard little else from our political leaders other than the importance of both the US and the EU.

Now it’s time for our political leaders to show that we are playing a new role in the world. Here, the political risk analyst John Hulsman is worth listening to. As he has been arguing in his superb City AM columns, Britain needs to develop much closer relationships with India and with those countries we might call “Anglosphere” countries – Australia, Canada and New Zealand, who we already have very close intelligence ties with. Formal alliances aren’t necessary. We need to show how our new role in the world will make the world a safer and more prosperous place.  Johnson is to visit India later this month.

Since the referendum, successive Governments haven’t managed to make a positive case for Brexit at all. Their 2019 campaign to “get Brexit done” worked brilliantly but was arguably borne of a failure to excite the public at all about the potential benefits of Brexit.

Johnson, for all his love of history, is fundamentally a forward-looking optimist; if anyone is capable to getting the public excited about a post-Brexit future, it’s him. When he will get the chance to start making this case is anyone’s guess.

James Frayne: Six ways of boosting local pride and identity

8 Dec

James Frayne is Director of Public First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion.

In an excellent recent blog, my colleague Andy Westwood of Manchester University called on the Government to pursue a local identity strategy.

In it, he wrote: “Buying or subsidising a hotel, pier or football club might not sit easily with notions of the role of government, nor a faith in competition rules. It goes against the grain of markets, state aid and traditional Conservative views of the state. There are lots of arguments about why we shouldn’t attempt such an approach. But if we really want to care about ‘place’ and identity then we should put these objections aside.”

He is right. Local identity should be a defining part of the Government’s “levelling up” agenda. While new investment in infrastructure and education and skills are ultimately what’s needed to improve post-industrial areas, local people will have to wait many years to reap the benefits of such policy decisions.

But the Government can do a lot in a short space of time to improve towns and cities by thinking about things through the prism of local identity. A key question should be: how do we make these towns nicer places to live? A simple question – but one which would drive different policy answers to simply asking how we deliver more jobs.

Here is what focus groups tell you people in post-industrial areas want to see. They say their towns and cities were thriving until the late 1990s, but have been in increasingly rapid decline ever since. Shops have closed on once-busy high streets, bustling markets are a distant memory, local businesses have moved out, once-great festivals have been downgraded or ceased altogether, community pubs have shut, low-level anti-social behaviour (like open drug use) has risen massively, attractive local focal points such as war memorials have been vandalised.

While the sense of malaise in these towns and cities is unmistakable, equally unmistakable is the sense of local pride people have for the places they live in. People are angry about the state of their towns because they love them. This is what the Government should be looking to tap into.

This can sound a bit vague and woolly, but it doesn’t have to be so. For a start, it’s important to acknowledge that England really is unusual in the intensity of very local identity. In a tiny country, small towns, often separated by just a few miles, think of themselves as being entirely different from their near-neighbours – and indeed they often sound completely different.

Think of the huge differences between, say, Mansfield and Rotherham. 25 miles apart and on paper quite similar, but people who consider themselves to be totally different; and remarkably, who sound totally different despite being separated by a car journey of half an hour.

Nor does renewing local identity all have to be a 30-year project. Some parts of such a project, to be clear, does: if you are going to make devolution work, revive major civic institutions and change the role of universities in their place – as well as build major infrastructure – you won’t see the results overnight. But there’s also a lot that can be done in four years, with tangible results. Here are some illustrative examples of things that a combination of national and local Government might do:

  • Keep the streets clean and safe. As well as generally increasing the visible police presence, pay for security guards to walk through the high street during the hours that the shops are open, and deploy others to walk through local parks.
  • Bring back the events. Everywhere I go, people have a local event – a carnival, a fireworks display, a special annual market – that used to bring people together and that disappeared in the last few years. The Government should help bring them back.
  • For that matter, there should be incentives to restore a local market day. Many towns still have the basic infrastructure – and certainly the space – to bring back the sorts of large markets that existed on Saturday mornings and which brought huge commerce to small towns. This basic infrastructure should be repaired or rebuilt.
  • Some transport takes decades to deliver, but regular, inexpensive buses don’t.
  • Invest in those institutions that are delivering leisure services to the local community. Long Eaton United is an example of a thriving local institution of the kind I’m thinking of. Its training facilities – partly grant-funded – are used to ensure that huge numbers of teams – for men, women, boys and girls – are all able to play. There are huge numbers of similar clubs across the country who could play a similarly important role locally.
  • Support libraries and local museums. Cultural infrastructure needs funding and supporting.

As we deliver the levelling up funds and the towns funds, plus the safer streets money, and all of the plethora of pots the government has (very sensibly) been putting into these kinds of efforts, government needs to make sure it doesn’t just go on long-term infrastructure like broadband, or local economic zones.

Important though these are, the Government needs to ensure they’re making a tangible and visible difference to towns. Without that, no one will give it permission to do longer term work – and, to be honest, this is what people care about most.

James Frayne: So how should the Conservatives talk with working class voters about the environment?

24 Nov

James Frayne is Director of Public First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion.

Given the Conservatives seem to have decided to make the environment one of their key campaigning themes for at least the near-term, how should they be talking to working class voters about the environment?

After all, while working class voters share similar concerns about the environment to professional voters, they care about it much less in relative terms.

In the last two years, I’ve probably done more work on the environment than any other single issue, overseeing many dozens of focus groups and a number of  very detailed landscape polls. Here are some thoughts on how best to engage working class voters.

1) Remember knowledge is extremely low

Those of us working in public policy must remember we’re having an entirely different conversation about the environment to most people. We think people know what “net zero” is because we use it all the time; on the contrary, focus groups will tell you most people haven’t heard of it; we say “Greta” and assume everyone knows who we mean; in focus groups you get blank looks.

If the Government truly is interested in speaking to working class voters, it’s going to have to accept knowledge of environmental issues is extremely low – and on the public policy debate almost non-existent. Politicians should view every announcement on the environment as being almost entirely new to most people. This demands simple policies, simply explained, from first principles.

2) Consider the environment as a capitalist issue

Perhaps the most important communications lesson is essentially psychological: keeping working class voters onside means creating a capitalist case for the environment – one with radically different policies and language from what we’ve seen before.

At present, there is considerable fear amongst working class people that going green is expensive and inconvenient. This is because the hard left has been the loudest voice in the debate; while left-wing campaigns have undoubtedly raised the salience of the issue, they have ultimately made working class people worried about change.

The best remedy is to show show environment policies are compatible with economic growth and rising living standards. Almost everything else here follows from this fundamental point. (To be fair, the Government has started to do this with a focus on jobs.)

3) Remember what people’s lives are really like

This isn’t meant to be a cheap point: London-based, upper-middle class officials and advisers lead work on environmental policy. Over time, regardless of where they came from, they end up with a warped view of what most people’s lives are like. In doing so they can make woefully unrealistic and unpopular recommendations which ordinary people can’t adapt to.

Officials and advisers must think hard about red lines for ordinary working class families: outside the big cities, almost everyone needs to drive to get to work or see family; most people spend what they earn in trying to live comfortable lives, save nothing, and therefore can’t just invest in home improvements. Most go on holiday once a year and look forward to it all year (flying is no luxury).

It doesn’t therefore make sense to begin your push on the environment with by telling working class voters they’re going to have to replace their car in nine years with a likely much more expensive model; nor to say they might need to spend vast sums on a new heating system. Better, instead, to have announced new investment in green public transport outside the cities. The Government has to accommodate the reality of people’s lives.

4) Focus on “jobs, growth, regeneration”

The Government’s recent announcements on new investment in green technologies in the regions were nicely done. Not only because it made a “capitalist case” for the environment, but because they played into working class hopes new industries might replace old ones. In focus groups, there are great hopes new technologies and new industries might bring about jobs, growth and, ultimately, regeneration. As far as possible, the Government should keep encouraging this so-called “green jobs revolution” in parts of the country which are struggling.

5) Protect the poorest

Such are people’s fears about the prospect of environmental policies hurting people’s wallets, the Government must continually lay on thick the point that green policies should not, and will not, affect the poorest. They should constantly reassure that new boilers, new heating systems, and so on would never have to be paid for by people that cannot afford it.

There is a reason, after all, why the Blair Government made such a big deal of protecting pensioners from higher fuel payments; there are large numbers of people that cannot pay a penny more each week.  And, to be clear, the “poorest” means everyone who is seriously cash strapped – a decent percentage of society.

6) Green taxes should be “alternative taxes”

One of the biggest mistakes of the green movement has been to link environmental policies in the public mind with higher taxes. People associate so-called “green taxes” with being shaken down by politicians for more money. The Government should only introduce green taxes as alternative taxes, rather than additional taxes. Their mantra should be: “let’s tax things that are bad”; not “let’s find a way to make more money”. Ideally green policies should be fiscally neutral (I accept, harder during the Covid recovery).

7) As far as possible, good behaviour should be rewarded

In research I’ve done, people respond well to the suggestion that good behaviour should be rewarded, more than bad behaviour should be punished (within reason). This means, people are keen to hear about things like council tax reductions for recycling more (a simple example, but you get the point); or businesses paying less in corporation tax if they make cuts in emissions. They prefer this to solely punitive, punishing taxes.

By the way, they don’t like the idea that businesses that work in energy-intense industries should be whacked just for doing their job; they want them to be rewarded for taking steps to become cleaner.

8) Tread carefully with the “patriotic case” for change

The public like the idea of Britain being a “world leader” in pretty much anything. Superficially, the idea that Britain can be a world leader in green policy plays well. But working class voters quickly start to ask a question: why should we damage our own industry, or raise taxes, when other more polluting countries aren’t doing the same?

To make progress, the Government has to reassure the public that everyone, across the world, is working together to reduce emissions and to help the environment.

9) Climate change isn’t the only green issue

In recent times, in the public policy world, the environment has come to mean climate change. But this isn’t where the public is. For many voters, and particularly working class voters, they’re more interested in excessive use of plastics, in the destruction of areas of natural beauty and animal welfare.

As such, while the Government might conclude that cutting emissions is the most important governing priority, they should not assume necessarily that this is the best way of actually appealing to working class people.

10) Stop making it impossible to drive anywhere

At the risk of repetition, the Government has got to stop basically trying to prevent people using roads; it is driving people crazy across the country. It isn’t just about removing lanes from roads for cycle paths, it’s closing junctions, re-routing traffic, and all the rest.

This doesn’t just make life hard for people in private cars, it makes it hard for taxis and buses to move through crawling traffic. Throughout London and other big cities it isn’t physically possible to take a bus to work because the traffic is so bad – and in London, trains and tubes are hellishly busy (in normal times). The Government (and councils) risk losing public support by what looks like basic incompetence.