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Westlake Legal Group > Consumers

James Frayne: What polling tells us about voter views of “sin taxes”

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

Boris Johnson’s suggestion that a Conservative Government led by him would review the performance of so-called “sin taxes” was widely criticised. This is unsurprising; it has become almost universally accepted within Westminster, Whitehall and the media that such taxes are morally right and work well. A column in the FT yesterday even denied such taxes were regressive, by hitting the poorest hardest. We know what the political establishment thinks, but what do voters actually think about the issue?

Let’s look at what the polls tell us. I’m always surprised there hasn’t been more research on an issue the public takes a close interest in. There are only several recent polls in the public domain, rather than dozens. Depressingly for those that are sceptical about the merits of state action, overall, the polls tell a clear story: the public as a whole favours state intervention across a wide range of sectors. Inject the idea that state intervention is needed to protect children and the polling numbers rise even higher.

An Ipsos-Mori poll last year – to mark 70 years of the NHS – showed that “adults” (in this case, those 15+), showed that people clearly support the following: banning junk food ads on TV before 9pm, limiting fast food outlets near schools, restricting the advertising of unhealthy food and drink and a tax of sugary soft drinks. There is mild support both for banning e-cigarettes in public spaces and a minimum price for alcohol.

A YouGov poll for Cancer Research from a year ago showed much the same. By 66% to 23%, people said they supported “Government passing laws to make sure supermarkets promote healthier options”, and by 73% to 18%, people said they supported “Government passing laws to make sure the food and drinks industry reduces the amount of sugar and fat in their foods”. Another YouGov poll from last year (I can’t work out the client) also showed similar levels of public support for Government action.

There are, as ever, some caveats to attach to these results. The first is that people still fundamentally think individuals are responsible for their own health. In Ipsos-Mori’s poll, when asked who had most responsibility for people staying healthy, respondents overwhelmingly said “the individual”. 97% of people said individuals had a great deal or a fair amount of responsibility for their own health, compared to 75% who said the food and drinks industry and 61% who said the Government. A Delta poll for my agency, Public First, showed that while people back a range of options to help deal with childhood obesity, they hold parents primarily responsible for the health of their children.

An additional caveat is that Ipsos-Mori’s poll showed significant class differences over the support for different policies. Boiled down, professionals from an “AB” background are much more likely to support action than those from a C2/D/E background – although less affluent voters are also likely to support state intervention too. The same is generally true of the other polls highlighted above. The FT article I note above denies these taxes are regressive, but the polls suggest less affluent people disagree (although we can’t be sure that’s why they’re more sceptical, to be fair).

On the prospect of state action, things could not be any clearer. Or could they? I write about opinion research on this site all the time and I am clearly no research sceptic. That said, top line polls don’t always tell us the full story – and there are three problems with the “meaning” deriving from the existing research, which warrants further exploration. Firstly, and most importantly, the polls don’t offer either compelling negative counter arguments, nor do they offer intelligent alternatives to state action. The polls are generally tests of positive arguments for state action – and such polls invariably drive positive responses.

Related to this, secondly, they generally don’t make people think about cost. It’s one thing to give support to abstract policy ideas that might affect others, but another for them to actively support significantly higher shopping bills. Few polls really make people think hard about cost implications.

Thirdly, most of these polls, by probing people’s straightforward reaction to a list of suggestions, don’t measure how important people think policies actually are. For example, questions that test people’s attitudes towards ad restrictions usually score highly because people don’t think they are personally susceptible to advertising, while thinking that children might be. It’s therefore easy for them to say they think ads should be restricted. But when I’ve asked people in the past to choose which policies, from a list of measures, would be most effective in dealing with a problem like obesity, restricting advertising usually falls towards the bottom.

There is a further complication to consider: the fact that there are very few public voices against state action. Free market think tanks – most obviously, the IEA under Christopher Snowdon’s excellent work – are the loudest and most persuasive voices. But, as they would readily admit, they don’t have the resources to take the battle to the public at large. Very few Conservative MPs are willing to take on this battle, and the food and drink industry can’t be bothered to make the case themselves, mostly preferring to attend pointless roundtables with Government instead of defending their position to the public. (I once attended an event where a marketing person from a food manufacturer proudly described how the Health Minister of the time had attended the launch of their newly-reformulated product, only then mentioning in passing that the product was likely to be discontinued because consumers hated it).

Together, all this means that we can’t really be sure what the public thinks about state action on unhealthy lifestyles. We only know what they think in the almost complete absence of counter arguments. As such, Boris Johnson’s review, should he ever have the time and space to deliver it, would likely be received by the public with more open-mindedness than people in Westminster, Whitehall and the media might expect.

(Full disclosure: my agency Public First has previously worked for clients in the food and drink sector and the alcohol sector.)

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

George Freeman: Our new book. In which forty Tory MPs band together to help revive conservatism

George Freeman is the founder of the 2020 Conservatives Group, the Big Tent Ideas Festival and Chair of the Conservative Policy Forum. He is MP for Mid-Norfolk.

The Conservative Party is in a hole. We need to stop digging. And start thinking seriously about the real causes of the EU referendum result, the grievances it spoke to – and set out a plan to honour that referendum result by leaving the European Union and setting out a bold programme of domestic reforms.

The EU referendum was a massive vote to reject the political status quo and embrace radical, small c conservative reform. The 17.4 million Labour, Conservative and unaligned voters who voted Leave were voting for radical change. The genius of the Leave campaign was its call to “take back control”. It spoke powerfully to huge swathes of the country feeling marginalised by a potent mix of globalisation, post-Crash austerity, an influx of low paid labour from Eastern Europe, the decline of traditional market towns and high streets, fear of economic marginalisation from automation and the gig economy and a deepening despair at a sense of injustice at the gap between the “unaccountable elites” and the ordinary citizen.

Brexit spoke to – and has enshrined – the principle divide in Britain which is no longer between Left or Right, or North and South, but between those with comfortable lives and those on the margin.

This is hardly surprising. After eight years in office overseeing painful local public spending cuts, in the wake of the £700billon bank bailout, MPs expenses scandal and Blair’s dishonest Iraq war dossier which have entrenched a sense of Parliament dangerously detached from the people it serves, the Brexit referendum was a roar for reform. A number of us had been warning David Cameron and George Osborne it was coming.

Handled properly it could – and should – have been a catalyst for that most difficult of political challenges: renewal in office. But Cameron misjudged the mood and treated Leavers with contempt. Theresa May misjudged the mood as a mandate for a toxic combination of hardline anti-business UKIP rhetoric and bureaucratic Brexit bungling.

Now we choose a new leader in the teeth of a deepening public anger and pressure – whipped up by Farage and Banks – the Dick Dastardly and Mutley of British politics – to embrace the “kamikaze” approach of an anti-business No Deal Brexit.

Get this wrong, and we risk the destruction of the Conservative Party for a generation: losing our professional, business, metropolitan and liberal supporters to the Liberal Democrats, our Leave supporters to the Brexit Party and those who just want competence in office to stay at home in despair.

If we are to avoid gifting a broken Brexit Britain to Jeremy Corbyn, John Mcdonnell and Len McClusky, the next Conservative leader has to do three things:

  • Deliver an EU Withdrawal which a majority of moderate mainstream British voters in the centre ground can support
  • Embark on some bold domestic reforms to tackle the legitimate grievances which fuelled the Referendum vote
  • Restore some grip, vision, inspiration and unity to a divided country and Party.

The scale of the revolt against the status quo demands bold reform. Not the technocratic tinkering and endless self-congratulatory initiative-launching of Ministers looking busy on Instragram, but real reform.

This is a 1975, 1945, 1905 moment of profound disruption. The old order will be replaced by a new order. The only question is who will shape it? Can the Conservative Party make this a moment of bold and inspiring renewal in the same way that Mrs Thatcher and Keith Joseph did in 1975, Attlee, Churchill, Beveridge and Butler did in 1945, and Churchill and the Liberals did in 1905 to see of socialism by creating pensions and national insurance?

Too often, we forget that the great institutions we cherish as permanent were once mere ideas – whether the NHS, the BBC, the London Docklands, universal suffrage, the Right to Buy or the privatisation of the old state industries. They were bold ideas which reshaped a whole generation and quickly became permanent fixtures.

When was the last time any modern politician had an idea on the scale of any of these? We now face a genuine battle of ideas with a resurgent hard left and we need urgently to rediscover the power of political imagination.

So what would a bold programme of Conservative reform look like today? In our book Britain Beyond Brexit: a New Conservative Vision for a New Generation, published today by the Centre for Policy Studies, I and forty MPs from all sides of the party – Leave and Remain, North and South, left and right, urban and rural – have set out a collection of pieces to frame that programme.

Our book sets out a range of policy proposals across six defining themes we believe must be at the centre of a coherent and compelling narrative for the New Conservatism: identity, opportunity, enterprise, social justice, security and citizenship.

Of course, many may ask: is the Conservative Party capable of that task, amid the seemingly endless and deepening divisions of the Brexit civil war?

The successes and failures of a post-Brexit new conservatism will be based on understanding the profound societal, economic and technological changes coming at us. Not how we return to the old dividing lines of the 1980s or 1950s, but how we address the profound challenges of our age: issues such as globalisation, digitalisation, genetic engineering, sustainable development, religious extremism and the traumatic rupture of the crash and its legacy on our public finances.

We have got to be brave enough to tackle the big issues of the day. Low and fragile growth. A fragmented health and care system. Structural deficit. Intergenerational unfairness. Deepening anxiety, disillusionment and despair. Rising pressure on weary public servants in creaking public services. Stubborn ghettos of low aspiration and deprivation. Housing unaffordability, homelessness and small town decline. Sluggish infrastructure. Bad planning.

For our elderly – and the families and community of carers who look after them, we need a fair system of funding and providing elderly care. For the young, the urgent priority is addressing housing and the wider issue of economic disenfranchisement. Put simply, we’ve built an economy where the principal mechanism for building economic security – owning a home – is getting beyond the reach of all but the most privileged. Is it any wonder that a whole generation of millennial voters – with little or no chance of acquiring a house or any capital – are seduced by the rhetoric of anti-capitalism?

We face a genuinely historic challenge: are we going to make Brexit a moment of catalytic renewal of conservatism and our nation? Or a moment of annihilation by a new alignment of a new generation of voters?

To avoid a decade of decline in a post-Brexit Britain run by Corbyn, we urgently need a new conservatism for a new generation.

I hope our book will help light the way.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Alan Mak 1) Alan Mak: Conservatism 4.0 – Adapting our Party for the Fourth Industrial Revolution is our greatest challenge

Alan Mak is MP for Havant and Founding Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Later this year, the international commission that oversees the official geological timechart will meet to debate and decide whether the world has entered a new epoch. The “Anthropocene”, named after the humans that have had such a profound influence on our planet would, for example, sit alongside the Upper Jurassic and Pleistocence (Ice Age) periods and represent the biggest turning point in history for over 500 million years.

Advocates for the Anthropocene say this new distinct era started in the 1950s, identifiable from the radioactive fallout from nuclear weapons tests, the appearance of fossilised plastics, the rise in carbon pollution from the global post-war economic boom, the pervasive use of concrete, and the rise of mechanised agriculture. Opponents feel none of these changes has been sufficiently impactful to merit a new phase in history – and the debate continues.

In contrast, the start of a new Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) in the late 2000s is not in dispute. My previous ConservativeHome series on this topic outlined the historical background and economic importance of the 4IR – the fourth phase of industrialisation after previous eras defined by steam, electricity and then the internet. This latest series of articles, which begins today, outlines its political implications, and argues in particular that adapting conservatism to the politics and society of a Britain radically re-shaped by the 4IR is our Party’s biggest challenge in the coming years – not Brexit.

Like many activists around the country, I spent time during the local election campaign knocking on doors and speaking to voters. I found an electorate keen to talk about a range of topics, not just Brexit: the economy, schools, defence, the NHS. Brexit is certainly the focal point of our national discourse for now, and while it will continue to be the fundamental, short-term issue our new Party Leader must deliver on, a moment will arrive very soon where the Party must pivot to the future – and look beyond Brexit.

As the leadership contest begins, our next Prime Minister, who will take us into a second decade in power, needs to turbo-charge our domestic policy agenda post-Brexit.

The next general election, whenever it comes, will be fought against a Labour Party that has coalesced around a hard-left agenda with clear messages on austerity, state-aid, taxation and the state ownership of utilities. Worryingly, these big state, anti-capitalist arguments have gained traction for the first time in 40 years. Just as Margaret Thatcher defeated Michael Foot’s hard left ideology in the 1980s, today’s Conservatives need to re-win the argument for free markets and stamp out Corbynista thinking before it takes hold.

The battlegrounds for the next election are being shaped by the new, disruptive technologies of the 4IR, sometimes visibly, sometimes not. The underlying forces shaping the contours of our new society and economy – the automation of jobs, the creation of new businesses, regional growth and decline, the skills base in each community – are all driven by new technology. As our lives become ever more digital, our country faces a series of unique challenges that only Conservative values can fully address.

Our Party has to adapt to this new landscape – and develop a new set of positive policies that allows us to deliver on the changed aspirations of voters in this new setting. From helping people secure the new jobs that the tech revolution will create to tackling the downsides of growth such as preventing environmental degradation, we need to develop Conservatism 4.0 – conservatism for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Previous Industrial Revolutions saw Conservative leaders grasp the opportunity to reshape our Party as the country changed. Robert Peel repealed the Corn Laws, heralding Britain’s rise as a champion of free trade, and  Thatcher drove forward reforms that enabled the City of London to renew itself and flourish through the “Big Bang” of technology. Our next Leader must consider how the Conservatives will remain relevant to a new generation of voters whose lives, workplaces and communities are being shaped by artificial intelligence, robotics, big data, drones and a new phase of globalisation.

We Conservatives must adapt to this rapidly-changing social and economic landscape, just as Thatcher and her predecessors did. These four guiding principles should shape the next leader Conservative Leader’s thinking.

1. No community can be left behind

Young people thinking of careers after leaving school or university are now entering workplaces in every sector shaped by artificial intelligence and automation.

Just take the supermarket industry, a sector that employs 1.1 million people in the UK and which faces radical change. Ocado, for instance, has developed a warehouse in Hampshire dubbed “the hive” that sees robots processing 3.5 million items every single week. Meanwhile in America, the first trials have begun of “Amazon Go” – checkout-free shops where consumers walk-out with whatever goods they like bypassing traditional tills or scanners. Instead, camera-based tracking technology identifies the shopper visually, and the goods bought, and charges their credit card automatically. There are no staff in the “shop” – a radical departure from the high street shop my parents ran which relied heavily on human labour (including mine).

What do these innovations mean for shop workers, and the millions of others who will likely be displaced in similar ways in other industries? Just as in previous Industrial Revolutions new jobs will certainly be created, from app designers to data scientists to robot maintenance workers. Past experience also suggests more jobs will probably be created than are lost as the economy grows. But our challenge is ensuring we equip workers with the right skills to fulfil their potential and secure these new jobs.

That means a renewed focus on STEM skills and a wider strategic long-term plan for skills in our country. I’ve previously set out my belief that we should introduce a Future Skills Review, a big picture analysis of the skills needed for our economy over the next five years – akin to the Comprehensive Spending Review or Strategic Defence Review.

Automation will inevitably impact different areas of the country disproportionally. So our next Prime Minister needs to prevent widening regional inequality. The impact of the decline of heavy industry, especially in the North, is still felt to this day in areas that have struggled to fully recover. As the Fourth Industrial Revolution accelerates, we need to help every community adjust and prosper, getting a fair share of the fruits of economic success. Leeds re-invented itself as a hub for digital innovation, whilst Sunderland is home to Nissan’s highly productive car plant. So a new Northern Technology Powerhouse would be especially welcome in the years ahead, ensuring that it isn’t just the “Golden Triangle” of Oxford, Cambridge and London that benefit from the 4IR.

2. Public services should be more productive, more digital and more accessible

The smartphone generation demands services that are available at their fingertips, whether that’s ordering a taxi or making a bank payment. The average smartphone user can choose from around 2 million apps to download – everything from games to social media.

Technology means life is moving faster, and people’s expectations of similarly fast-movement and responsiveness from their government are rising too. Voters want a Smart State, not Big Government. And because we Conservatives are in office, we are expected to use new technology to deliver better, more efficient public services.

Perhaps one of the least recognised achievements of the Government since 2010 has been the digital transformation of our public services. The UK is currently fourth in the UN e-government league, having delivered more than £2 billion in efficiency savings through digital transformation since 2014.

But we shouldn’t rest on our laurels. We must strive to deliver more efficient public services by fully-digitising them in line with consumer demand. A poll by POLITICO in swing election seats showed that our Party still trails in the core issues ranked as the most important outside of Brexit – crime, housing and health.

We need to consider how we can use artificial intelligence to solve crimes; automated construction techniques to build much-needed homes; online courses to improve further education; and how we deploy apps to transform the NHS into a paperless service, so patients have their test results and medical records on their phones.

As a Party we need to harness technology to improve the delivery of public services and offer better outcomes, recapturing the initiative from Labour politicians whose focus on nationalisation and uncosted (yet endless) spending commitments often drives the debate.

3. Technology can help us become more relevant to younger voters

The age divide in our politics is now well-documented, with a recent Onward report showing 49 per cent of Conservative voters are now over the age of 65.

Yet as separate polling for the Centre for Policy Studies found, young people are still more likely than the general population to think that the Government spends and taxes too much and are not inclined to back nationalisation.

Instead, they want more control over their lives, and that includes over the money they work hard to earn.
In the age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Conservatives need to deliver the same message of economic freedom that propelled Thatcherism to unprecedented electoral success. By embracing tech, and making Britain a global tech superpower, we will create more opportunities for young people to start their own business and have a stake in our society by owning capital and generating wealth for themselves and others.

Our next Leader must position Britain as low-tax, high-innovation, pro-tech economy. We must cut corporation tax to attract inward investment – Jeremy Hunt’s proposal to cut our rate to match Ireland’s 12.5 per cent rate is very welcome – and be pro-active in creating a regulatory environment that gives tech companies the freedom to innovate. We must not follow Labour’s example by trying ban Uber in London and Brighton. Platforms used by younger people should be smartly regulated, not shutdown.

We win back younger voters by proving that we are a Party that believes in the future – and that means embracing technology, and the benefits it brings to everyday life.

4. Green growth must be at the heart of Britain’s Fourth Industrial Revolution

The fossil fuels that powered previous industrial revolutions left a dirty legacy which we are only now coming to terms with as we take decisive action on climate change.

The 4IR will be the first industrial revolution that offers the tantalising prospect of clean growth, with renewable energy and the next generation of batteries potentially signalling the end for dirty fossil fuels.

Similarly, carbon capture and storage technology has the potential to limit CO2 in the atmosphere; blockchain to improve accountability across far-flung supply chains; “smart boats” to help fishermen manage their catch effectively; and biodegradable plastics to protect our oceans.

These are just a small number of the environmental technology breakthroughs that will soon become pervasive.

Britain should be an advocate on the world stage for green growth, helping us bolster our credentials at home as the Party of good environmental stewardship too. The current Government’s 25-Year Environment Plan and commitment to biodiversity has been one of our most popular policy areas since 2017. By committing to ensuring that this new industrial revolution leaves the planet cleaner we can turn green growth in the 4IR into a new source of electoral strength.

All four policy areas matter regardless of Brexit or our future relationship with the EU. The current Brexit debate has meant they are not getting the focus they deserve, but our next Leader should put these principles at the heart of our Party’s response to the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

By doing so, we can successful help our Party adapt to the new political and economic landscape that technology-driven change is creating, so voters continue to trust us to govern for generations to come.

This article is the first in a three-part series explaining why adapting to a society and economy shaped by technology is key.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com