Why Danny Finkelstein is wrong about the Lib Dems and the public sector

There’s a distinctly odd posting by The Times’s Daniel Finkelstein over at his Comment Central blog today, Our poll and Nick Clegg’s strategy, focusing on the result of the latest Times/Populus opinion poll which breaks down party support according to the public and private sectors as follows:

Lib Dems: 23% (public sector), 17% (private sector)
Labour: 26% (public), 29% (private)
Tory: 38% (public), 45% (private)

Here’s Danny confusing (and confused) analysis:

Nick Clegg’s party does much better among public sector workers than among private sector ones (23 to 17 per cent). This must put a further question mark over his strategy of arguing that a great deal of public spending is wasteful and should be cut to allow lower taxes.

Let’s pause a second to think that one through.

I’m assuming that the subtext of his comment runs something like this… Public sector workers who vote Lib Dem like wasteful public spending because it keeps them in a job. Therefore Lib Dems shouldn’t argue for cuts to wasteful public spending because it will do some public sector workers out of a job, and so hurt the party’s popular support.

There are some deeply flawed – and lazily insulting – assumptions underpinning this argument, not least of which is that Danny seems to presume that public sector workers are self-interested only in their own jobs. This is contrary to my personal experience with councils, where employees are often among the most critical of their organisation’s waste and inefficiency – very little of which, by the way, is the fault of front-line staff. (More likely it’s their managers who signed-up to daft IT systems or poor value-for-money contracts). After all, they see the downside of such bad practice every working day, and are frequently frustrated by its effects. Of course, turkeys don’t vote for Christmas, it’s true; but that’s the same for anyone, regardless of whether they work in the private or public sector.

And if it’s really the case – as Danny implies but prefers not to state – that public sector workers are more likely to vote for a party which protects their own interests, why does he think the Tories attract 38% support from the sector, despite the party’s history of under-investing in key services?

Danny’s posting also ignores one of the key public sector reform touchstones of the Lib Dems: decentralisation of public services from Whitehall to local control. One of the most common complaints of public sector workers is Labour’s (and before them the Conservatives’) obsessive centralisation of the public sector, and the ‘targets culture’ that expanded with it. As a result, public services have been forced to become agents of Whitehall, rather than be free to respond to local circumstances. The Lib Dems have long pledged to reverse this Labour/Tory trend, and to allow public services to become local once more. It’s a policy which, unsurprisingly, appeals to many in the public sector, and many will vote for the Lib Dems as a result.

Declaration of interest:
I work for a private institution in receipt of some public funding. Does that make me a private or public sector worker? These are the kinds of questions opinion polls (or at last the repoorting of them) obscure.

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


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.

If you are a member of the party, you can have the Lib Dem Logo appear next to your comments to show this. You must be registered for our forum and can then login on this public site with the same username and password.

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

  • Laurence Cox
    Lorenzo, Nothing I have said refutes my own view. You are the one who wanted a loud debate. I have found some information from the JCVI https://www.gov...
  • Richard Coe
    This could be our Reichstag Fire moment. I almost feel that unless hard scientific evidence is provided we should carry on until the law is clarified, at which ...
  • Teresa Wilson
    My political sympathies lie more with the Liberal Democrats than any other party, so I don't see myself leaving. I do however feel the same kind of frustration ...
  • David Raw
    @ Geoffrey Dron I'm afraid that's not the case, Mr Dron. The Union is under threat because of the arrogance and sheer incompetence of the Westminster model....
  • john oundle
    After the events of the past few weeks I would suggest it would be best to keep quiet about the EU. China inflicts a pandemic on the world,refuses to co-oper...