The public wants Britain to scrap the Trident nuclear missile system but believes spending on health and education should rise each year, according to a ComRes poll for The Independent.
By a margin of 58 to 35 per cent, people believe that the £25bn renewal of the Trident programme should be abandoned because of the state of the public finances. The finding will strengthen the hand of ministers who are pressing Gordon Brown to cancel or delay the scheme as Labour prepares to unveil public spending cuts.
Ministers have told The Independent that there is growing support for switching money from the Trident programme to reducing public debt and improving equipment for British troops, especially given the rise in the death toll among servicemen in Afghanistan in recent months.
The Liberal Democrats have already come out against renewing Trident. Labour and the Tories support it but admit it will have to be reviewed because of soaring public debt. Support for ditching Trident is strongest among people who intend to vote Liberal Democrat (63 per cent) and Labour (61 per cent), while Tory voters are evenly divided (48 to 47 per cent in favour of scrapping it).
According to ComRes, 84 per cent think that, despite the pressure on public spending, the education budget should grow each year, while 14 per cent disagree. Meanwhile, 82 per cent believe that spending on the NHS should increase every year, while 17 per cent disagree.
The Chancellor, Alistair Darling, will today make a case for "active government" in key areas but will add: "This also requires us to focus on the limits of what Government can do and areas where we can step back – so that public investment and private endeavour can work hand-in-hand." Aides denied that he would be signalling an expansion of privatisation or public-private partnerships.
The ComRes poll gives the Tories a 16-point lead, down two points on last month. They are on 40 per cent (down two points), with Labour on 24 per cent (no change), the Liberal Democrats on 21 per cent (up three points) and other parties on 15 per cent (down one point). These figures would give David Cameron an overall majority of 80 at a general election.
A majority (53 per cent) of the public say they may change their mind about how they will vote at the general election. The Tory vote appears to be the most solid, with 34 per cent of Tory supporters saying they may change their mind, compared with 51 per cent of those who intend to vote Labour and 56 per cent of those who support the Liberal Democrats.
Less than two-thirds (64 per cent) of people who voted Labour at the last general election say they would back the party now. The Green Party is marginally more popular than the Tories among those who intend to vote for a different party.
ComRes telephoned 1,005 British adults between 4 and 6 September, 2009. Data was weighted by past vote recall. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Full tables at www.comres.co.uk
ComRes poll: The findings
*Given the state of the country's finances, the Government should scrap the Trident missile system
Agree 58 per cent
Disagree 35 per cent
*Despite the deficit in public finances, spending on the NHS should increase in real terms every year
Agree 82 per cent
Disagree 17 per cent
*Despite the deficit in public finances, spending on education should increase in real terms every year
Agree 84 per cent
Disagree 14 per cent
Source: ComRes/The Independent