Amid all the flummery of Clarkson’s cold cuts, Shapps’ second job, and Champion’s poppy wreath claim, there was a youGov poll, which showed Labour and the Tories neck and neck in the race to the General Election. No news there then.
The pollsters also like to ask the public about other matters, and in this budget week they asked if public spending should be cut or increased: 44% said if any money was available to spend it should be spent on public expenditure, nearly twice as many as those who wanted tax cuts (25%) or spent on cutting the deficit (20%).
The pollsters went on to ask about where future cuts in public spending should fall. Asked to choose three sectors from a list, the polled chose the following:
- Overseas Aid 66
- Welfare benefits 36
- Environment and Climate Change 29
- Defence 19
- Local Government 11
- Transport 8
and a number of other sectors which added up to 16 points. Ignoring the don’t knows, the total was 192. If everyone had chosen three, then the total would have been 300 (less the don’t knows). So clearly not everyone chose 3, the average being just under 2.
There was cross-party support for cutting the overseas aid budget, although welfare benefits cuts were most popular with Tories. UKIP voters were equally enthusiastic about cutting welfare and environment/climate change budgets. Labour voters preferred to cut environment and climate change funding ahead of welfare. LibDems preferred to cut Welfare and Defence spending before environment/climate change, which tied for fourth place with transport.
Of course this is just a snapshot with 1400 voters and the usual caveats apply. It’s also to my mind unhelpful to lump the environment in with climate change, particularly as it is such a polarising policy area. A bit of context might have been useful. The Welfare budget is £120Bn, Overseas Aid is £11Bn. Defra’s budget is £2.2Bn while DECC spent £7.6Bn last year, most (over £5Bn) of which appears to have been spent decommissioning nuclear reactors. The NHS spends £100Bn a year and Schools £54Bn.
Given the relatively tiny amounts spent on the environment and climate change, it’s all the more extraordinary that these areas should be picked out by the public for further cuts – especially as Defra was the hardest hit Government department in this Parliament, taking a hit of over 30% in its funding.
It’s difficult to draw any other conclusion from these results, that, apart from the 9% who would protect spending on the environment and climate change above all else, the remainder of the public are either neutral, or have active animosity against spending on the environment/climate change. It may well be that the environment as a concept does not really have much meaning to the public, because it is so all encompassing; and if climate change is becoming a toxic issue for many (and there’s an interesting take on that by Mark Lynas here ) then “the environment” will be tainted by association.
What is clear though is that without the support of the general public, politicians of all flavours will not take these things seriously. And the environment movement has to take responsibility for the fact that, after 40 years of work, and regardless of millions of people belonging to and supporting environmental organisations, we have failed to persuade the general public that “the environment” is an important part of Government policy and spending.
photo: Poppy wreath By Caroline Ford (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons