David Cameron and George Osborne were warned last night that most Conservative supporters wanted the Government's austerity measures to be reversed once the economy begins to recover. The Chancellor has embarked on a programme to slash £81bn from public spending to bring "stability to the economy" and Mr Cameron has made clear he believes the cuts should be permanent.
But a survey has discovered that the majority of voters, including natural Tories, thought the savings should only be temporary. Although surveys suggest the public accepts the need for the cuts, a YouGov poll published today cautions ministers that many voters are opposed to moves to roll back the state permanently.
By a margin of more than three to one (69 per cent to 22 per cent), people believe the cuts should be temporary rather than lasting. Conservative voters have the same view by a majority of 56 per cent to 39 per cent. Public reservations about cutting the size of the state were also highlighted by the finding that just 23 per cent, and 31 per cent of Tories, believed it was vital for the Government to cut spending and reduce taxes. By contrast 64 per cent, and 60 per cent of Conservatives, agreed it was more important to "tax fairly and spend efficiently".
The polling was done on behalf of the Fabian Society, a centre-left think tank, which argues that Tory-leaning voters who are committed to public services will represent a key battleground at the next general election. Its research director, Tim Horton, said: "It has been the best-kept political secret of the last 30 years that around half of Tory voters are fundamentally un-Thatcherite about the state – deeply attached to public services and fiercely protective of their social entitlements."
He said this group offered Ed Miliband a real chance to win the next election if the Labour leader can "make them a convincing offer on public services and social security".