What does the latest Social Attitudes Survey say to Liberals?

The 34th British Social Attitudes survey has found 48 per cent of Britons would back the government increasing taxes to bolster spending, the highest support for such measures since 2004. Britons think the government should prioritise spending on health (83 per cent), education (71 per cent) and the police (57 per cent).

The key findings of the report are summarised broadly as a country that is becoming:

Kinder: after 7 years of government austerity, public opinion shows signs of moving back in favour of wanting more tax and spend and  greater redistribution of income. Attitudes towards benefit claimants appeared to have softened, with the proportion of people saying benefit claimants don’t deserve help dropping from 32 per cent in 2014 to 21 per cent in 2016, the lowest level ever recorded by the survey. People particularly favour prioritising spending on disabled people.

Not soft-hearted: the public in general continues to take a tough line on the response to threats at home and abroad. More than half of Britons want the authorities to be given strong powers to respond to terrorism and crime, and record numbers want defence spending increased.

After pensions being protected from austerity, the public are losing sympathy with the idea that this should be a priority for further spending.

The public takes a dim view of benefit fraud and tax evasion, with many thinking that exploiting “legal loopholes” is also wrong. Further, more people consider benefit fraud wronger than tax evasion. While the proportion who prioritise more spending on increasing the benefits for disabled people has risen, there is little support for more spending on benefits for the unemployed, perhaps because half of people think the unemployed could find a job if they wanted to. Only 16 per cent of those surveyed said they would back more spending on the unemployed.

Socially liberal: the onward march of social liberalism continues with record proportions of people being comfortable with same-sex relationships, pre-marital sex and abortion, among other issues. While younger people are still more liberal on these subjects than older people, the difference is narrowing.

Divided: public scepticism for the EU is on the rise. The country is however clearly divided by age and education on views about the EU and immigration; young degree holders are much more positive about both than older people with no formal qualifications.

These findings go a long way to explaining why Jeremy Corbyn just won 40% of the vote on a social liberal platform as this SLF article http://www.socialliberal.net/jeremy_corbyn_just_won_on_a_social_liberal_platform notes:

  • Austerity, Labour were against it. Keynesian Liberals are against it too. (While recovering from a recession that is)
  • Investment in infrastructure. Liberals have always been clear that the state has a strong role in investing in national infrastructure.
  • Health and Education. The party of Beveridge understands the need for strong health and education systems.
  • And finally, Labour even advocated a Land Value tax – stealing our thunder.

The SLF article concludes – In this election, we have learned one thing very clearly – now is the time to be bold.

* Joe Bourke is an accountant and university lecturer, Chair of ALTER, and Chair of Hounslow Liberal Democrats.

Read more by or more about .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • I think what this shows is the need to communicate an absolute ‘clarity of purpose’ to the electorate – Labour have just stolen many natural Lib Dem nuggets, when we give the impression of turning in on ourselves – ironic as that’s what Labour did until recently, so there is still hope.

    However, thinking in terms of “my way” is right and therefore “other ways” are wrong appears common on many of these threads, which quickly results in converting debates into power struggles.

    For a potential leader/leadership team of the Lib Dem’s this is challenging, since the Liberal way is to value all opinions equally, but 100,000 people are simply never going to agree on a National communication strategy – and there has to be one.

    It is often said that a main challenge for Lib Dems is it’s ‘the party that doesn’t want to be led’, but without effective leadership, effective communication beyond local issues is very difficult and leads to a message/narrative that is often ambiguous and thin on the ground.
    It seems clear to me from this survey, that many of the priorities of the electorate are clearly prime Lib Dem territory.
    If you approach this from the perspective of taking the action that will help others best achieve their goals, then you are then in the game.
    Understanding the other person’s WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) position is critical.
    Personally, I think strong innovative leadership is needed to pull this party back onto fertile ground and take the inevitable conflict as an opportunity to harness the considerable creative energy for the good of the party and the country.
    This requires everyone to play their part and not be too precious about their own particularly “drum” at least until we get back into a position of influence.
    Teamwork, loyalty, trust and clarity of direction is much more important for now I think

  • nigel hunter 30th Jun '17 - 1:00pm

    This scepticism over staying in the single market is the same as EU membership will have to be coped with. We must correct this.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 30th Jun '17 - 1:22pm

    The article by Joseph is good, the conclusions also.

    But if Labour are definitely centre left in their actual manifesto, the Tories definitely centre right in their current government , the about turn of either ,must be met by stronger responses from Liberals and Liberal Democrats.

    If the Labour party appeals to the Social Liberal Forum, and any of us , it must be for a reason. The article on that site gives it. It describes the manifesto as mainly social Liberal.

    If that is the case , or call it social democrat or democratic socialist , if it contains much that is within the social Liberal area of concern and policy , we need a far more dramatic reaction.

    To compete with it would be absurd.

    The Labour and Try party can always change leftward or rightward, they have hundreds of seats , most fairly safe , and massive funds and a machine , to enable the change.

    smaller parties do not.

    The Liberal and Green parties, as parties , throughout the democratic world are literally nowhere , unless with alliances before elections or elections under proportional representation.

    It is time for an alliance .

    Or there is no point in pussy footing over social attitude surveys, we would have to be Liberal Democrat Populists , to win anywhere at all, as in nice middle class trendy educated youthful areas , Labour shall wipe the floor with this party .like in everywhere from Islington to Sheffield !

  • nigel hunter 30th Jun '17 - 1:27pm

    At Glasto did Corbyn tell the crowd his position on Brexit?

  • Phil Beesley 30th Jun '17 - 2:08pm

    Lorenzo Cherin: “It is time for an alliance .”

    If we consider other types of alliances, in wartime or business, we see the vulnerable partner being exploited by the dominant one. It is rarely a sharing, mutually beneficial relationship.

    Following the coalition years, when Lib Dems become too closely associated with Conservatives, I’d have thought Lib Dems would be more cautious. It all went wrong with that dreadful photo shoot in the Rose Garden; coalition should have been conducted at a distance and shown to be conducted at a distance. Lib Dems misinterpreted the slim win at the Eastleigh by-election.

    I know it’s a funny idea, but how about persuading liberals to vote Liberal Democrat? It would save a lot of deposits.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 30th Jun '17 - 3:14pm


    You talk about it as if what was, is , and thus must be . No wonder the use of the word progressive in alliance proponents , has got very little traction so far.It seems the past is ever there to haunt, for some.

    You need to see that throughout the democratic world, alliances are being built.

    In my view the candidacy of Bernie Saunders, united the left , of the mainstream, with the centre and centre left. He proved subsequently a loyal and active support for the Democratic party he had previously not bee fully involved with.

    In Italy, after a complete re grouping of every main philosophy and party, the Democratic party is a new and better party than ever , ib that it includes socialists, social democrats, Liberals, progressives, centrists, all under the label of Democrat .The Liberals remain a grouping in it, even registered within Liberal International.

    Most countries that have independent parties competing , do so under proportional representation. How do we get it? An alliance.

    We need to unite more. Chuka Umunna, Stella Creasy, Alison Mcgoven, Dan Jarvis, what divides us politically . Baggage. What philosophically. Little.

    Even Brexit is getting in the way of unity just because of Labour being more populist because it works politically. Is there other than that much that separates us from even , Barry Gardiner, or Sir Keir Starmer , or on health even , Jonathan Ashworth ?

    I am increasingly of the view that many more mps for us in alliance would be better than wipe out.

    I look forward to the leadership of Sir Vince on this. Like me , though he is old enough to be my father and so it was many years before, he was in Labour. He knows the only future politically that is a good one for our party or progress in general is with proportional representation.

    We must make Labour see that as the Tories never shall.

  • Phil Beesley 30th Jun '17 - 4:25pm

    Thanks for your arguments, Lorenzo.

    “You talk about it as if what was, is , and thus must be .”

    Jeremy Corbyn may present himself as a placid grey beard, but he is what he is, was and will be. What was, that was nasty. Corduroy is a lousy disguise.

    “Most countries that have independent parties competing , do so under proportional representation. How do we get it? An alliance.”

    We and the Greens win by losing. We win the argument. We embarrass the government so much that we had a referendum for AV which we fouled up…

    “I am increasingly of the view that many more mps for us in alliance would be better than wipe out.”

    Which alliance? We don’t have votes to give to Greens. If it was 1981, Chuka Ummna might have joined the SDP.

  • I don’t know if the survey spells it out or not, but I feel that the voting public have moved wholesale from the centre ground to either the hard left or hard right. Suppose the next question is why?
    There was a time when you could swap a Cameron with a Miliband or a Clegg like they were generic ‘modules’, and carry on regardless. But the truth is it was a bland middle of the road politics which seemed to work very well indeed for middle class but it didn’t produce the goods for everyone and a lot of the little people felt forgotten and much poorer as a result.
    Recognizing that centre ground is bereft of policy for them, an exodus of voters has now sought new answers in the hard left or hard right. In truth those shifting voters probably don’t know whether their move to Corbyn or May will find real solutions. But one thing left movers and right movers seem to absolutely agree upon is that centrist politics has let them down, and very badly.
    It’s an inescapable fact that we are now a very divided nation but I think that the evidence is clear. Politicians still love Centrism but voters do not have that same fetish and are moving on. With the evidence of 40% searching for answers on the hard left, and 43% searching for answers on the hard right, Liberal Democrats really must soul search very deeply, as to why they are still convinced that Centrism even with a hint right or left has any electoral future?

  • Sheila Gee’s analysis is 100% correct and its ramifications are profound. What is needed is a whole new agenda targeting national economic survival rather than one that assumes it will happen and concentrates only on how to divide up the proceeds.

  • Sheila,

    there is a detailed survey on trends in British political attitudes from 2014 http://www.bsa.natcen.ac.uk/media/38978/bsa32_politics.pdf. This concentrates on long-term trends rather than temporary fluctuations from one election to another.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 1st Jul '17 - 12:12am


    Thanks , be careful saying what you do about a certain person, he has his fans here, Iam not one of them, merely someone who wants to make allies to defeat defeatism and hope for hopefulness to triumph !

    I think what I like and respect about the centre left members is how reluctant they are to leave Labour. I was always views first , alliances second , party third. I feel this party is one of individuals working together in respect most of the time , good humour often, hatred never.


    Under what circumstances do we emerge thus, from your perspective are we to become far left or be centrists , in the exciting centre , the radical centre , and moderate centre left where we should be and really are?

  • People are rushing round looking for a messiah and easy answers. The Tories have brought forward Brexit will solve everything , we must believe in it or faries will die. The problem is even the Telegraph is now squealing the city must be protected, Brexit is not going well. I think we can see how that will go. We will still have the brave Brexiteers trumpeting it only went wrong because it wasn’t my type of Brexit; problem is they can’t agree what type should have been tried. Labour are going to solve everything by taxing the rich, the problems with that are firstly Brexit will make us poorer and the very rich are footloose. So in a few years time we are likely to be faced with an electorate chanting at both parties “your not the messiah your a bunch of very naughty boys”. Who will then step into the gap, could be the Liberals could be yet another populist, only time will tell; I suspect the answer will be dependent on if the voters still believe in the messiah.

  • frankie

    The word messiah isn’t a word I would choose but I take your point about erroneously expecting solutions in the darker corners of politics. Maybe Centrists could have been more observant to the rise of people’s desperation and acted sooner to solve their anxieties before it reached such fever pitch. ButWeAreWWA. Assuming you are correct in that both hard left and hard right will disappoint them, the question remains what’s so new in the centre ground to attract them back? Taking Labour as an example I cannot see why voters who rejected the centrist cardboard cut-out that was Ed Miliband, they would then drift back to yet another, centrist cardboard cut-out such as Chuka Umunna or Yvette Cooper. I just don’t see it.


    Liberal Democrats as well as the Greens are in a precarious position because in order to get noticed in this new left /right world they must have ‘jaw-dropping’ radical ideas. If however they are radically daft ideas they will be ignored, but if radically smart the ideas will be absorbed by the big boys. But then does it matter if good ideas are stolen if those ideas are implemented for the benefit of society? In fact, does power from the green benches always matter? I think it is the vibrant Movement and its message that holds the real power, not the political party. It’s just happened under our noses. Whatever we might think about Farage the man, the fact is he’s never had actual power from the green benches of Westminster. Yet he effectively made the meme of tacking back control ‘open source’. Once the ‘take back control’ meme became open source, 4 million people took ownership of it, ran with it, and pushed it over the winning line. So what exactly is political power?

  • Sheila to use a metaphor from one of my favourite authors we must hope the electorate embrace their inner Quirm after experiencing Brexit and lots of free stuff..

    Quirm has a large floral clock as one of its main tourist attractions. Some visitors may say that it is dull and boring, but that is the whole point. Many of the citizens of Quirm once lived in more ‘interesting’ cities filled with exciting events such as coups, wars, assassinations, dragons, mage wars and attacks by horrors from before the dawn of time etc. Consequently they have sworn great oaths that ‘it won’t happen here’, and strive to keep the city as calm and dull as possible.

  • Looking at Britain elects there are by-election after by-election where local groups are challenging and often beating the main parties. I think that is a real pointer to how committed the electorate are to the parties of the UK; not much at all.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • Jeff
    Malcolm Todd 24th May '22 - 6:55pm: The difference between “avoid” and “endeavour to avoid” can’t just be swept under the carpet… ...
  • Barry Lofty
    It is a sad reality that Johnson will probably survive Sue Gray,s inquiry but what a terrible situation our country faces in the midst of another crisis, left...
  • Roger Lake
    May I add a comment slightly off the point, made a few days ago in response to the call by Humphrey Hawksley on LDV for Weds 11th May, for a Lib Dem 'Big Idea'...
  • Jeff
    Roland 24th May '22 - 7:42pm: The UK government has been funding HS2 directly since 2010, it didn’t need to leave the EU to do this… That ...
  • Guy
    The debate on "Partygate" misses two key points. 1 - Most of the rules that were broken weren't discussed in detail by Parliament, so the details were never s...