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Across Europe and now in Britain the consensus behind austerity has collapsed

A new poll commissioned by the trade-union backed think tank Class shows backing for anti-austerity policies.

Across Europe, and now in Britain - the consensus behind austerity has collapsed

Public opinion in Britain and across Europe changed decisively in May following the Greek and French elections. Before then the austerity consensus dominated. However compelling the intellectual arguments for growth strategies, the right’s agenda prevailed.

Since then, in Britain, opinion polls have steadily shifted towards opposition to government policies. May not only saw a strong Labour win in the elections, but also several polls which suggested a shift in the position of the British people towards austerity and growth.

The 11-12th May YouGov-Sunday Times poll had broadly 40% of those polled saying the Government should change its strategy to concentrate on growth even if that meant the deficit stays longer, whereas only 32% wanted to stick to the Government’s current strategy.

Now a new poll commissioned by Class, a trade union backed thinktank, and conducted by YouGov, shows strong support in this country for the anti-austerity policies championed by Francois Hollande.

The poll showed a remarkable level of support for radical policies. When asked about policy measures to kick-start growth including establishing a publicly owned bank to lend to SMEs; reducing the pension age to 60 for people who have worked 41 or more years; introducing a financial transactions tax; a national programme of building 500,000 extra homes a year including 150,000 council houses; providing more financial support for young people from low income families for college and university; and introducing a 75% rate of income tax for those on more than £1m a year, support ranged from 56% to 74%.

Except on the income tax proposal – the Tories split 42-51% on that – all these policies were backed by supporters of all parties. The proposal for a publicly owned bank to lend to small and medium business had the support of 74% of those polled. Even 72% of Tory voters supported it. Labour’s tentative proposal for a British Investment Bank must surely now become a strong pledge.

70% agree that “redistributing wealth from the richest in society” is an important aim in settling economic policy. Indeed 50% of Tory voters at the last election agree with this.

The left is on the same side as the majority of public opinion in the UK. These results show that an apparent consensus behind austerity-focussed economic
policy has well and truly collapsed. Across Britain and Europe there is now an unmistakable and growing demand for a radical alternative to austerity.

It is important to recognise that a few good polls and elections don’t signal fundamental changes in thinking. We do need to proceed cautiously. But equally it is no longer tenable to argue that austerity policies are necessary because they are credible. Very difficult times are ahead, economically and politically – but just maybe we are seeing the early signs of political spring.

Growth not austerity is becoming real.

by Steve Hart, Chair, CLASS


All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1,727 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 21st - 22nd May 2012. The survey
was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+). Full polling results are available here.

Class launch seminar: Towards 2015 - Strategies for Jobs and Growth will be held in London tomorrow (Saturday). More information on the launch seminar can be found here

The Centre for Labour and Social Studies (Class) is a new think tank established by Unite the Union, GMB and the Institute of Employment Rights to act as a centre
for left debate and discussion. Originating in the labour movement, Class is working with a broad coalition of supporters, academics and experts to develop and advance alternative policies for today. Read more here.


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