John Curtice: Voters take measured view of Brown Budget

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The Independent Online

The Budget was greeted by many commentators as a political masterstroke. Voters appear to have adopted a more measured view.

The Budget was greeted by many commentators as a political masterstroke. Voters appear to have adopted a more measured view.

Polling by MORI indicates that rather more voters (45 per cent) think Gordon Brown's proposals are a good thing for the country as whole than consider them a bad thing (34 per cent). But 39 per cent think the Budget is bad for them personally, and only 34 per cent think it is good. Of Mr Brown's Budgets, only last year's was greeted with less enthusiasm.

One of Mr Brown's aims was to convince the public of the quality of his economic management. His recent efforts seem to have had no impact. Last December, just 37 per cent agreed that: "In the long term, this Government's policies will improve the state of Britain's economy", while 48 per cent disagreed, a net score of minus 11. The net score now is the same. It is two years since the public were last optimistic about Labour's ability to improve the economy.

The Budget has had no impact on Mr Brown's personal standing either. While 38 per cent are dissatisfied with the way that he is doing is job, 46 per cent are satisfied. But this net satisfaction score of plus eight compares to his pre-Budget score of plus nine. While his rating is better than that typically enjoyed by his Tory predecessors or indeed by Tony Blair, it is well below the levels that Mr Brown has enjoyed for most of his time as Chancellor.

Yet if one speech has made little impact, the Government's more persistent efforts to persuade us that it is beginning to turn the public services around may be beginning to bear fruit.

As many as 31 per cent expect the policing of the area where they live to improve over the next few years. Only 20 per cent think it will get worse. This net positive rating of plus 11 is the best since MORI began asking this question two years ago. Labour's fears that the public will never believe it is improving law and order look as though they may have been exaggerated.

There are improved ratings for Labour's top priorities of health and education too. Between May 2002 and September 2003 the public's expectations of the NHS fell from a rating of plus 14 to a rating of minus 12. The public seemed to be losing confidence in Labour's ability to produce a better health service. But after rising to minus five in December the score has edged up a little further to minus two.

Meanwhile, on education the optimism rating now stands at plus 15, similar to levels last enjoyed more than a year ago. And there is even less pessimism about the future for public transport.

Improving the public services has been Labour's key goal during its second term. So this increased optimism about the future is likely to be crucial to the party's hopes of winning the next election. What remains to be seen is whether it will continue.

John Curtice is professor of politics at Strathclyde University.

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