Osborne's got it wrong on the economy, warns public


Andrew Grice
Tuesday 29 May 2012 09:19 BST

Seven out of 10 people want George Osborne to adopt a "Plan B" on the economy to give priority to growth rather than spending cuts, according to a poll for The Independent.

ComRes found that 72 per cent of the public believe it is time for the Coalition to perform a U-turn so that its policy is focused more on promoting growth and less on cuts, while 17 per cent disagree and 11 per cent don't know.

Significantly, 64 per cent of people who voted Conservative at the 2010 general election and 68 per of those who backed the Liberal Democrats want a change of course. So do 86 per cent of people who voted Labour.

The pressure from voters across the political spectrum suggests growing doubts about whether the Coalition's handling of the economy is working, following Britain's slide back into recession.

Although ministers deny they are drawing up a Plan B, David Cameron and Nick Clegg have asked the Treasury to produce more proposals to kickstart the economy through state-backed infrastructure and housing projects.

The growing calls to ease austerity come as the Government said it would backtrack on another high-profile policy – the "pasty tax". This would have made hot pies and other savoury foods subject to VAT, but was perceived by many as an attack on the working class.

Ministers' fears about a prolonged recession have grown because of the crisis in the eurozone. Yesterday David Cameron discussed contingency plans at an hour-long session with Sir Mervyn King, the Bank of England Governor, and Lord Turner, chairman of the Financial Services Authority.

According to ComRes, Labour enjoys an eight-point lead over the Tories, down slightly on the 10-point advantage in its last telephone poll for The Independent in March. Labour is now on 42 per cent (down one point); the Tories on 34 per cent (up one); the Lib Dems on 11 per cent (no change) and others on 13 per cent (no change).

The poll reveals a huge "gender gap" which suggests that Mr Cameron and his party are losing support among women. Some 40 per cent of male voters back the Conservatives; 39 per cent Labour and 8 per cent Lib Dem. But only 29 per cent of women voters support the Conservatives, while 45 per cent will vote Labour and 14 per cent Lib Dem.

The Tories are ahead among only one age group – those aged 65 and over. Labour leads the Tories across all the social groups including those in the highest AB grade. On the current parliamentary constituency boundaries, these figures would give Labour a majority of 104 if repeated at a general election. Labour would win 377 seats, the Conservatives 230 and the Liberal Democrats would be reduced to just 19. Under the proposed boundaries due to take effect at the 2015 election, Labour would emerge with a majority of 86, winning 343 seats to the Tories' 224.

Ministers insist they still enjoy public support for the Coalition's core mission to reduce the deficit. But the poll findings will encourage Labour as it steps up its demands for a "Plan B".

Mr Cameron has rejected the "austerity versus growth" debate as a false choice. He was accused of changing horses after siding with François Hollande, the Socialist French President elected on a "growth" ticket, against Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, at this month's G8 and EU summits.

ComRes interviewed 1,001 adults in Britain by telephone from 25-28 May. Data were weighted to be demographically representative of all GB adults.

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