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MHP Budget poll reveals spending split

Alastair Hill

MHP is hosting a Budget breakfast briefing which will set out the key issues and arguments facing the Chancellor Philip Hammond ahead of his appearance in the Commons. We commissioned polling company ComRes to conduct research which shows widespread demand for spending – but a split on how that should be funded.

The list of irreconcilable demands ahead of this Budget certainly feels longer than normal.

To name just a handful of demands voiced over recent weeks, the Chancellor Philip Hammond needs to: find extra cash for creaking public services, set aside money for a potential ‘no deal Brexit’, implement a programme of radical tax cuts, unfreeze welfare spending, help struggling consumers with rising inflation and indebtedness, as well as earmark an extra £50bn for his own Cabinet colleague’s major housebuilding programme.

All this set against dismal productivity growth, worse than expected deficit forecast this week and continued economic uncertainty as Brexit negotiations with the EU enter a crunch phase.

But new polling by Comres for MHP Communications on the eve of the Budget highlights that Mr Hammond may have some leeway with the public on the key issues. A significant 67% of respondents said that they are supportive of the need for increased spending.

As ever though, how this is investment is paid for is the challenge.

Our poll found that the public was split on whether taxes needed to go up to fund public service investment, with 51% saying they would be prepared to pay more taxes to increase spending on public services and 49% saying they wouldn’t.

But while the headline figures show an even split on paying more taxes, broken down by age there are some interesting findings. 58% of those over 55 said they would be happy to pay tax to fund public services.

Our poll also suggests that the Chancellor may have some cover to raise taxes. 69% of respondents said that they expect taxes to go up as Britain leaves the European Union.

However, while the public may seem resigned to tax increases tomorrow, they do make one demand of the Chancellor. With only 78% saying they think that the Government spends tax-payers’ money wisely, any extra spending commitments announced tomorrow will need to clearly illustrate value for money.

The Chancellor’s own MPs will be much less forgiving

But if the public seem reasonably sober about the sacrifices required at tomorrow’s Budget, it is the Chancellor’s own MPs who will be much less forgiving.

Many Tory backbenchers are less than convinced about Mr Hammond’s tepid embrace of Brexit, and any suggestion that leaving the European Union means higher taxes will simply not wash.

In fact, with the Conservatives struggling since the election, there has not been a shortage of Tory MPs lining up in recent weeks to demand decisive action to seize the initiative back from Labour.

For a safety-first Chancellor, it’s an almost impossible choice. Go big, and a radical tax cutting budget could easily unravel. Play it safe, and the knives wielded by a growing number of Tory backbenchers will only get sharper.

Joining us for the MHP budget panel are former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith MP, George Parker; Political Editor of the Financial Times, Miatta Fanbulleh; CEO of the New Economics Foundation and Graeme Leech; CEO of Macronomics Consulting.